(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Damaged school in Nikishine. Rebel fighters deployed inside the school between September 2014 and February 2015 and exchanged intense fire with Ukrainian forces.

© 2015 Yulia Gorbunova/Human Rights Watch

In eastern Ukraine, the armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed armed groups has disrupted the education of thousands of children. Since the conflict began in 2014, at least 740 schools have been damaged or destroyed. Both sides have used schools and universities as bases and barracks.

Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report on attacks and military use of schools documented how both sides used schools for military purposes, destroying many schools and forcing thousands of children out of school or to continue their studies in unsafe or overcrowded facilities. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recently reported that fear of such attacks has caused parents to keep their children away from schools.

When schools are targeted in wartime, kids are put in the line of fire and miss out on their right to an education. And when armed groups are present, schools lose their crucial role as a safe haven to learn, grow, thrive, and maintain a normal routine.

More and more countries are recognizing that something must be done. Seventy-five countries – constituting over one-third of UN member states – have now endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political agreement which contains concrete commitments to better protect students, teachers, and schools in wartime. Ukraine’s absence among the endorsers is especially noticeable, given the armed conflict’s devastating toll on Ukrainian children.

The UN Security Council’s Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict is on July 9.. What better platform for Ukraine to endorse the declaration than on one of the world's most influential stages? At last year’s Open Debate in October, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs said Ukraine “attaches great importance” to the Safe Schools Declaration and expressed Kyiv’s willingness to endorse it.

These words were encouraging, but more than seven months later, it’s time to put words into action.

Ukrainian children cannot wait any longer. In its report for May of this year alone, the UN included damages to six education facilities in eastern Ukraine. On July 9, Ukraine should make good on its commitment to protect the lives of children and their right to education and endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Oleg is growing up to a soundtrack of war. He listens intently to the radio as it tells him how many shootings and shellings have taken place near his home, Hnutove, a village in eastern Ukraine that sits right on the line between parts of Ukraine under government control and parts that are under control of Russian-backed armed separatists. It’s the front line of an armed conflict that started four years ago after a public uprising ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russia president, and that drags out, occasionally interrupted by ineffective cease-fires.

He has had to learn the difference between mortars and howitzers, work out which direction the fire is coming from, and to estimate how close it his to the home he shares with his loving and protective grandmother, Alexandra, and his goofball younger cousin, Yaric.

The Distant Barking of Dogs follows the 10-year-old Ukrainian boy Oleg, whose life was turned upside down by the on-going war in Eastern Ukraine.

The director and filmmaker, Simon Lereng Wilmont, recalls the moment he knew Oleg would be the boy he followed for his documentary, The Distant Barking of Dogs, which shows viewers war through the eyes of a child. Travelling down the southern part of the 280-mile line of contact separating areas held by Ukrainian forces and those by Russian-backed armed groups, he asked every child he came across what it felt like to be afraid.

“It’s like there is this cold hand reaching into my chest, grabbing my heart, and when the first shells start to explode, the hand starts squeezing it, little by little, until my heart is a little, cold lump. That’s how I feel, when I am afraid,” was Oleg’s answer as he looked at Wilmont with ice-blue eyes.

Oleg being embraced by his grandmother, a scene from The Distant Barking if Dogs, which is part of the Human Rights Watch film festival.

“That was it for me,” Wilmont said. “I knew I had to make a film about this child and his amazing grandmother, Alexandra.”

The Distant Barking of Dogs, which will be screened as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on Monday, June 18 and Tuesday, June 19, follows Oleg from January 2016 until the middle of 2017. In that short time, he deals with separation from family, injury, and illness, all to the background noise of war.

More than 425 civilians were killed in 2017 in the conflict between the Ukrainian government and separatist armed groups supported by Russia. Since the conflict began in 2014, about 3,000 civilians have been killed, with more than 10,000 deaths in all, and nearly two million people internally displaced – fleeing their homes and the danger they would face if they remained.

Hnutove sits on the Kalmius river, where Oleg goes swimming with his friends and which became the boundary between land controlled by Russian-backed armed groups and Ukrainian government-controlled territory.

The Distant Barking of Dogs

The Distant Barking of Dogs

Ten-year-old Oleg lives in the eastern part of Ukraine — a conflict zone that often echoes with anti-aircraft fire and missile strikes. By sticking close to Oleg, The Distant Barking of Dogs shows the effect of conflict on children.
 

As more people leave the town to find safe haven elsewhere, Hnutove starts to feel abandoned. Empty seats in classrooms outnumber those occupied by children, and life becomes harder and harder. Despite this, Alexandra and Oleg stay put. As Alexandra says, “Every dog is a lion in its own home.”

The motivations behind the decision to stay seem complicated and rooted in survival and belonging. Wilmont said that some people returned to the village after initially leaving, painting a distressing picture of conditions for people who are internally displaced.

“[Alexandra] knows deep in her heart that she can sustain life for both her and Oleg by living off [their small plot of land],” he said. “There is both a fierce pride and a much-needed feeling of security in this knowledge. Leaving would – in her mind – mean saying goodbye to the only sure means of day-to-day survival that she knows, and that’s no easy thing to do.”

Alexandra was stuck between the decision to leave to an insecure life in a strange place, or one in a place she knows in her bones, but surrounded by war.

Wilmont witnessed first-hand the toll war was taking on Oleg. Some nights he would be scared to sleep – staying awake fully clothed until the early hours of the morning. And yet the next day he would ignore the shelling, acting totally indifferent to the sounds of mortars falling close by.

“It’s evident he already has some inner scars,” Wilmont said. “That said, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Oleg would be so much worse off if he didn’t have his beloved babushka, Alexandra, to care for him and shelter him as best as she can from the worst of the ugliness of the war.”

Despite this protection, Oleg has had learn things no child should know.

“Oleg has been forced to become wise to the many sounds of war, “so that he knows whether to run for the basement or not,” Wilmont said. “No child should have to carry that kind of knowledge in their head, and I definitely think that has aged him beyond his years.”

Throughout the documentary, Oleg’s friendships become precious, and two other boys – Kostya, a teenager who offers a glimpse of who Oleg may become, and 8-year-old Yaric, Oleg’s cousin who acts like his shadow – share in his adventures and his traumas. 

A childhood in the shadow of war. A scene from the observational film, The Distant Barking if Dogs, which examines the effect of conflict on children.

But no relationship is more important than the bond between Oleg and Alexandra.

“Alexandra is Oleg’s all and everything. As he is hers,” Wilmont said. “As I see it, Oleg brings strength, hope and laughter into Alexandra’s life, whereas she gives him all the stability, emotional shelter, and warmth he needs to grow up and become a good and decent human being, despite the sad and terrible circumstances of their present reality.”

That is the message Wilmont hopes people will take away from The Distant Barking of Dogs –  of mutual support during hard times and the need to embrace the fact that people are so much stronger together, than  on their own.

The conflict in Ukraine may have fallen from people’s consciousness, but that doesn’t mean it has gone from the lives of people living in its shadow. As recently as May,  a checkpoint in Oleg’s village was shelled twice, media reports said. Wilmont also hopes, perhaps naively he says, that the documentary might remind people of the many civilians  suffering on both sides of the front line.

As he told Human Rights Watch, conflict is a sad reality for many children in the world, and he wanted to give the children caught in this particular conflict a voice. The documentary is about what growing up in the midst of war does to a child, and how crucial family and close personal relationships are if a child is to survive with as few inner and outer scars as possible.

The person doing the most to save Oleg from some of these scars is undoubtedly Alexandra.

“Her love for him is truly out of this world, and she is doing an amazing job,” Wilmont said. “So at the end of the day I’m optimistic on Oleg’s behalf.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Distant Barking of Dogs follows the 10-year-old Ukrainian boy Oleg, whose life was turned upside down by the on-going war in Eastern Ukraine.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Proposed changes by France’s Senate Law Commission to a controversial and widely criticized asylum and immigration bill could make things worse and open the door to improper and unlawful exclusion of refugees.

The commission’s amendments would require examiners to refuse an asylum seeker refugee status if there are “serious reasons to believe a person’s presence in France constitutes a threat to public security or state security.”

Migrants queue for a free meal distributed by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA) humanitarian agency on a street near Stalingrad metro station in Paris, France, October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

While at first blush this may seem like a legitimate ground, it is unnecessary and contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which France is party. Under the Convention a persecuted person, who otherwise qualifies as a refugee, can be denied that status, if there are serious reasons to believe he or she has already committed a serious crime against international or domestic law. The bill’s proposed standard is much lower, vaguer and open to abuse, making it easier and more likely that asylum seekers who have a right to protection in France, would be rejected. Moreover, if a refugee with status does prove to be a threat to public order or national security, that is a ground for expulsion from the country following due process under the Convention anyway.

Senators on the commission also backtracked on three improvements adopted by the lower house of parliament. They rejected the extension from one to four years for permits for people who benefit from ‘subsidiary’ protection, but not full refugee status; refused to extend a right to family reunification to parents and siblings of a child who is receiving international protection in France; and withdrew protection from prosecution for people providing humanitarian assistance to migrants, going against changes proposed by parliamentary members who hoped to shield such activists from prosecution for so-called crimes of solidarity.

The bill also forces refugees to wait two years, instead of 18 months, before they can be reunited with family members.

The Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty, has recently recommended a ban on the detention of children in line with international norms, but the commission’s senators voted only to limit detention of children to five days. Senators also want to allow migrants slated for deportation to be held for up to five days, up from the current 48 hours limit, before they see a judge.

The one positive note: the commission rejected the heavily-criticized proposal to shorten the deadline to appeal asylum rejections from one month to 15 days.

Now, it is critical that senators in the plenary sessions uphold international refugee law and do the right thing by amending and adopting a text that will protect not damage asylum seekers’ rights.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This week, June 18 to 22, Antwerp hosts a meeting of governments, the diamond industry, and nongovernmental groups to take stock of the Kimberley Process, the certification process set up nearly two decades ago to end the trade in “blood diamonds.” But the Kimberley Process is not up to the task. The European Union—currently the chair of the Kimberley Process—should push for change to improve the protection of human rights starting with mining and throughout the entire supply chain. Belgium has a key role to play as well, as global diamond trading hub and EU member state.

Far away from Antwerp, villagers in Zimbabwe recently faced a violent crackdown by police and soldiers. Why? They were protesting because they believe that state-run companies have looted billions of dollars in revenue from local diamond mines with no benefit to their community. Residents say security force personnel beat women with batons, fired live ammunition into the air, and fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrators—sending three children to the hospital.

Zimbabwe’s diamond mines have a long history of human rights abuses. Armed forces killed more than 200 people when the military first seized control of the mines in 2008 and have coerced children and adults into forced labor. In April, local organizations reported that security guards had handcuffed local miners and unleashed attack dogs on them.

Yet, diamonds from Zimbabwe are exported legally into the international market under the Kimberley Process. Diamonds tainted by abuse—in Zimbabwe or elsewhere—can still reach the global diamond market easily. The Kimberley Process is narrowly focused on curbing abuses perpetrated by armed groups, ignoring those of state actors. It also lacks an independent monitoring system to check if the necessary customs controls are actually in place. Finally, the Kimberley Process only applies to rough diamonds, allowing stones that are fully or partially cut and polished to fall outside the scope of the initiative.

This needs to change. At the Kimberley Process “intersessional” meeting this week, delegates should seek to strengthen human rights protection in diamond supply chains, including by expanding the Kimberley Process definition of conflict diamonds.

Under international standards, companies need to have due diligence safeguards in place to identify and respond to human rights risks throughout their supply chain. Yet, many jewelry companies do not live up to these standards. Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the diamond sourcing practices of 13 leading jewelry and watch brands, whose combined annual revenue totals about US$30 billion. We found that many companies point to their compliance with the Kimberley Process as evidence that their diamonds are “responsibly sourced,” but take limited action to identify forced labor or other human rights risks in their diamond supply chains.

Companies and governments need to do much more to ensure human rights are protected. The Kimberley Process should adopt a wider definition of “conflict diamonds” to address abuses like those seen in Marange, and establish an independent monitoring system and ensure more rigorous controls. The diamond industry in Antwerp and elsewhere needs to take responsibility, too, and establish robust human rights safeguards throughout the supply chain, to ensure they are not linked to or contributing to human rights abuses in Marange or anywhere else.

Juliane Kippenberg is a child rights expert at Human Rights Watch and co-author of “The Hidden Cost of Jewelry”, a report on jewelry supply chains published in February 2018. Follow her on Twitter @KippenbergJ

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants.

© 2018 John Moore/Getty Images

I’ve had a chance over the past few days to see what happens to kids right after they’re separated from their parents by US immigration officials. White House chief of staff John Kelly said we shouldn’t worry about these kids because they’ll be “put into foster care or whatever.”

“Whatever” seems to be what they’re aiming for, judging from my time interviewing children and their parents in McAllen, Texas. There are no specific services for kids at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facilities there – both the short-term holding cells known informally as the “freezers” because they are kept so cold and the larger processing center. No recreational areas, no place to run around and play, and no toys or books of any kind. “We’re not set up as a child care facility,” a CBP official told us.

These are intended to be short-term detention facilities: federal law requires CBP to transfer unaccompanied children to the Department of Health and Human Services “not later than 72 hours” after authorities know they’re separated from their parents.

But three days alone is a long time for any kid. Consider the 5-year-old boy I met on Friday. He’d been sitting in a caged area for nearly a day with older children he didn’t know; nobody told him where his mother was or what would happen to him.

Now that CBP is effectively running day care for kids too young for grade school, you’d think they might at least bring in staff with the skills to look after children. But as I sat in CBP’s Ursula processing center most of Friday, the only staff I saw were uniformed agents, one or two assigned to watch over four to six pens each holding 20 to 30 children.

Some of these kids aren’t out of diapers. When Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission checked in on a girl estimated by CBP to be 2, she discovered that a group of teenage girls had been taking turns caring for her for three days. She said that CBP officials had done nothing more than check off the girl’s name at roll call.

President Donald Trump has all but admitted he’s using family separation as a negotiating tactic to get immigration legislation he wants. That’s reprehensible. Kids shouldn’t be used as political pawns. And “whatever” isn’t an acceptable policy response when the government separates children from their families.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People hold signs to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order to detain children crossing the southern U.S. border and separating families outside of City Hall in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 7, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Sitting across from me in an immigration holding cell in McAllen, Texas, the 24-year-old woman told me a familiar story. Her town in Honduras is plagued by gang violence, and after some relatives and others she knew were killed, she fled with her 5-year-old son, fearing they might be targeted next. I talked with her son a bit – he liked the crackers the US border agents gave him, and he clapped in delight when an official handed him a juice container as we talked. 

I tried to find her the next day. Her boy skipped up to me with a smile when I asked to see him, but his face dropped when I mentioned his mother. “I haven’t seen her since yesterday,” he said. “I don’t know where she is.”  

She’s one of the 2,200 parents – and counting – who have been separated from their children under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s new “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented entry. The US Department of Justice plans to prosecute all irregular entries, even people like this mother, who approach immigration agents seeking asylum. 

McAllen is on the front line of Sessions’s assault on immigrant families. Several days ago, an attorney from the Texas Civil Rights Project spoke to a woman just after US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents took away her breastfeeding infant. Michelle Brané, of the Women’s Refugee Commission, was interviewing a man and his daughter a few feet away from me when officials started to pull the girl out of the room. The two were only able to say goodbye after Brané asked the officials to give the family a few more minutes together. Many families don’t get that chance: parents have been told their kids are going for a shower or will see them after court. Neither is true. The border officials are lying to parents.

CBP agents block anyone without documents from crossing the bridge at the border, because if people reach the passport control desk and ask for asylum, immigration officials should by law let them enter (though even previously they sometimes didn’t). 

The US government may of course enforce its immigration laws so long as authorities uphold the rights to refugee protection, family unity, and ensure children’s best interests. What authorities are doing in McAllen and elsewhere along the border, however, offers few safeguards for families fleeing harm and desperately seeking safety. 

Politicians and government officials like to claim the US is a beacon of hope and a bastion of liberty. McAllen shows no sign of that.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Imports sit destroyed in a damaged warehouse at the port in Hodeida city, Yemen.

© November 2016 Kristine Beckerle / Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – All parties to the conflict in Yemen should minimize civilian harm during military operations against the western port city of Hodeida, Human Rights Watch said today. The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, and Yemeni government-aligned forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates, stepped up attacks on Houthi forces controlling the port in June 2018.

About 70 percent of Yemen’s aid and commercial imports enter through Hodeida and the nearby Saleef port, providing food, fuel, and medicine that the population needs for survival. To comply with international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties should take immediate steps to provide safe passage and adequate support to civilians fleeing fighting and facilitate the flow of aid and commercial supplies to the broader population and access by humanitarian agencies.

“The coalition and Houthi forces now fighting for Hodeida have atrocious records abiding by the laws of war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council should urgently warn senior officials on both sides to provide civilians access to desperately needed aid.”

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Up to 600,000 civilians remain in the vicinity of densely populated Hodeida, which the Houthis took over in late 2014. On June 9, the UAE, which has led coalition operations along Yemen’s western coast, informed humanitarian organizations that they had three days to evacuate the city. The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations withdrew many of their staff, but the UN aid chief, Mark Lowcock said, “It is our plan, intention and hope to stay and deliver.”

The parties to the conflict are bound under the laws of war to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian structures. Since the coalition began its military campaign in Yemen in March 2015, coalition forces have committed numerous unlawful airstrikes and used inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions. The Houthis have unlawfully carried out indiscriminate missile strikes, used anti-personnel landmines, and deployed children in combat, as have pro-government Yemeni forces.

The UN has referred to Yemen as the world’s worst and largest humanitarian crisis. As of January 2018, at least eight million Yemenis were on the brink of famine, which is linked directly to the armed conflict. Hodeida’s port is the “single most important point of entry for the food and basic supplies needed to prevent famine and a recurrence of a cholera epidemic,” the UN has said.

UN Security Council Resolutions 2140 and 2215 established a sanctions regime that authorizes the Yemen Sanctions Committee to designate those responsible for serious abuses, including obstructing humanitarian assistance, for travel bans and asset freezes. The Security Council should announce that it will impose these penalties on individuals who commit offenses during the Hodeida offensive that meet the sanctions committee’s designation criteria, Human Rights Watch said.

The US became a party to the Yemen conflict soon after fighting began by providing intelligence and refueling for coalition bombing missions. In 2017, the US sent special forces to assist in locating and destroying Houthi caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites, according to the New York Times. The US has also sold thousands of advanced bombs and rockets to Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition. The US could become complicit in violations of the laws of war by assisting coalition forces during the Hodeida offensive. The United Kingdom, France and other countries have also sold weapons to coalition forces. US and other foreign officials may be exposed to potential legal liability by selling weapons likely to be used in unlawful attacks.

“The battle for Hodeida could have a devastating impact on civilians both in the city and elsewhere in Yemen,” Whitson said. “Both sides need to seek to minimize civilian harm at all times, whether in carrying out attacks or by allowing families to flee to safety.”

A worker is pictured in a government hospital's drug store in Sanaa, Yemen August 16, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Facilitate Humanitarian Access
Health professionals and humanitarian workers in Yemen have described how parties to the conflict have restricted access to aid and essential goods and the impact on the civilian population. This includes repeatedly failing to abide by laws-of-war requirements to facilitate the delivery of aid to civilians, exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Further disruption of humanitarian and commercial imports through Hodeida and Saleef will have predictably devastating consequences for civilians, Human Rights Watch said. The inability of essential supplies to reach their final destinations, including to areas under Houthi or Yemeni government control, would also be disastrous.

On June 8, Lise Grande, Yemen’s UN humanitarian coordinator, said: “In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything – even their lives.… Cutting off imports through Hodeidah for any length of time will put Yemen’s population at extreme, unjustifiable risk.”

The coalition has imposed a naval and air blockade on Yemen since the current conflict began that has severely and disproportionately restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians in violation of international humanitarian law. The coalition closed all of Yemen’s entry points in response to a Houthi missile strike on Saudi’s Riyadh airport on November 4, 2017, keeping Hodeida and Saleef ports closed for several weeks. The closures immediately and predictably exacerbated existing food shortages. The port of Aden in the south, which is controlled by the Yemeni government, does not have the capacity to receive the hundreds of thousands of metric tons of food, fuel, medicine, and other imported goods Yemenis depend on for survival.

Houthi forces have blocked and confiscated food and medical supplies and denied access to civilians in need. They have imposed onerous restrictions on aid workers, interfered with aid delivery, and restricted the movement of ill civilians. The cumulative impact of Houthi obstruction and interference with humanitarian assistance has significantly harmed the civilian population.

Parties to the conflict must facilitate the rapid passage of humanitarian aid for civilians in need and not arbitrarily interfere with it. They must also ensure the freedom of movement of humanitarian workers, which can only be restricted temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity. Warring parties are also prohibited from carrying out attacks on objects that are indispensable to the civilian population, such as food stores or drinking water installations intended for civilians. The laws of war prohibit using starvation as a method of warfare, and require parties to a conflict not to “provoke [starvation] deliberately” or deliberately cause “the population to suffer hunger, particularly by depriving it of its sources of food or of supplies.”

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Take all necessary steps to keep Hodeida and Saleef ports open and operational without interruption to humanitarian and essential commercial goods;
  • Take all necessary steps to ensure that aid and essential commercial imports can be taken in at ports and can be transported to civilians throughout Yemen;
  • Cease targeting, damaging or destroying objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population; and
  • Ensure the safety and security of humanitarian workers at all times.

 

Provide Safe Passage to Fleeing Civilians

Thousands of civilians have been displaced as fighting moved up Yemen’s western coast. In Aden in February, families displaced from their homes said they fled because they did not trust the warring parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their attacks. They described their fear when “the war came” and that the next mortar attack or airstrike would hit their or their neighbors’ homes. Some said that Houthi or UAE-backed fighters had restricted their flight.

A three-story house in Souq al-Hinood, a crowded residential area in Hodeida city, that was hit by an airstrike on the evening of September 21, 2016. A single bomb killed at least 28 civilians, including 8 children.

© 2016 Priyanka Motaparthy / Human Rights Watch

One man, “Talal,” said that after pro-government fighters pushed the Houthis out of Khawka in late 2017, about a dozen Houthi fighters deployed in the woods near his farm. He was worried that coalition forces would attack, but for two weeks the Houthis refused to allow his family to leave. “They said, ‘We will live together or we will die together.’ It was an order,” said Talal. “We heard the sound of airplanes all the time, stuck between the coalition and the Houthis.” His 4-year-old son “would wake up at night, crying, and yell, ‘The airplanes are coming!’” In December, after the Houthis had retreated to the woods, coalition airstrikes hit the family vehicle and their home. Eleven family members, including Talal’s nine children, were at the farm, and his 12-year-old son was severely wounded. They fled on motorbikes to the city of Hays.

Thousands of people displaced from fighting on the western coast have fled to Aden. “Ahmed,” 27, said UAE-backed forces at checkpoints occasionally refused entry to Aden or sought bribes from displaced people. His brother said, “Some of the people who are coming pay at the checkpoint, but it depends where you are from.” People from Houthi areas in the north pay larger bribes, he said. When Ahmed traveled from Taizz to Aden in early 2018, UAE-backed forces held him and a family traveling on the same bus at a checkpoint overnight with nothing to eat – the soldiers took their food and water. The soldiers let Ahmed go in the morning, but the family from the northern city of Saada, whom the soldiers accused of being Houthis, were still being interrogated when he left.

The laws of war require parties to the conflict to take all feasible steps to evacuate civilians from areas of fighting or where fighters are deployed and not to block or impede the evacuation of those wishing to leave. The creation of “humanitarian corridors” and the issuance of effective advance warnings of attack to the civilian population do not relieve attacking forces of their obligation to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.

Deliberately using the presence of civilians to protect military forces from attack is the war crime of “human shielding.”

The parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Remove civilians to the extent feasible from areas in the vicinity of military targets;
  • Allow civilians to flee areas of fighting for safety and to obtain aid; and
  • Never use civilians as “human shields.”

 

Avoid Civilian Casualties and Damaging Civilian Structures
Human Rights Watch and others have documented dozens of indiscriminate or disproportionate airstrikes by coalition forces and missile attacks by the Houthis that have caused thousands of civilian casualties. Coalition airstrikes have killed civilians in attacks on markets, homes, schools, hospitals and mosques. In March, the UN human rights office said that coalition airstrikes caused 61 percent of verified civilian casualties in Yemen.

The coalition has repeatedly hit infrastructure critical to the civilian population, including damaging essential port infrastructure in Hodeida. The coalition has carried out airstrikes using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in densely populated areas, including in Hodeida city.

The coalition has repeatedly pledged to minimize civilian harm in its aerial campaign, but has continued to carry out unlawful attacks. In April, the coalition bombed a wedding in Hajjah, killing 22 civilians and wounding at least another 54, about half of whom were children. As in 23 other apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes that Human Rights Watch has documented, the coalition used a US weapon – a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) satellite guidance kit.

Houthi and government-aligned forces have carried out indiscriminate artillery attacks that have struck populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians. The Houthis have repeatedly fired artillery indiscriminately into Yemeni cities, including after withdrawing from city centers. They have failed to take all feasible precautions against harming civilians by deploying military forces in civilian facilities – including a school and a civilian detention facility.   

A so-called dual-use object – one that normally has both civilian and military purposes – is a valid military target so long as the expected concrete and direct military advantage from the attack is greater than the anticipated loss of civilian life and property. Any coalition attacks on Hodeida and Saleef port facilities, which serve a military purpose, will need to take into account the extreme importance of those facilities to the civilian population and the anticipated impact of their destruction, Human Rights Watch said.

 

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects during military operations;
  • Act to ensure that attacks on military targets do not cause disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian objects;
  • Take all feasible steps, when operating in areas where civilians and combatants are comingled, to minimize the harm to civilians and civilian objects, including by selecting weapons and specific munitions to minimize civilian casualties; and
  • Cease use of munitions with wide-area destructive effect in heavily populated areas.

 

Cease Use of Landmines; Increase Efforts to Clear Explosive Remnants of War

Landmines have killed and maimed civilians, disrupted civilian life, hindered humanitarian access, and prevented civilians’ safe return home in affected areas in Yemen. In any battle for Hodeida, the Houthis, as well as pro-government forces, should not use antipersonnel mines, which pose a threat to civilians long after a conflict ends.

Houthi forces have repeatedly laid antipersonnel, antivehicle, and improvised mines, as they withdrew from areas in Aden, Taizz, Marib and, more recently, along Yemen’s western coast. In February, the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center’s southern branch found antipersonnel mines, antivehicle mines and other types of explosive ordnance, including improvised antipersonnel mines, near the towns of Mokha, Khawka and Hays. One deminer said that, “Areas that have been mined have never been signed [marked with warning signs].” Three years after the Houthis withdrew from Aden, mine survey and clearance operations continue.

Use of antipersonnel landmines violates the laws of war, and those involved are committing war crimes. The indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines and failure to minimize civilian casualties also violate the laws of war. Yemen suffers from a shortage of equipped and trained personnel who can systematically clear landmines and explosive remnants of war.

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Cease using antipersonnel mines, destroy any antipersonnel mines in their possession, and appropriately punish those using them;
  • Raise awareness among the displaced about the threat of mines, including improvised mines, and develop capacity to rapidly clear homes and residential areas of mines and remnants of war to facilitate the return of the civilian population; and
  • Direct international assistance to equip, train, and assist clearance personnel to systematically survey, clear, and destroy Yemen’s mines and explosive remnants of war. International donors should provide assistance for landmine victims, including medical care, prosthetics, and ongoing rehabilitation.

 

Ensure that No Children Take Part in Fighting

Houthi forces, pro-government forces, and other armed groups have used child soldiers, an estimated one-third of the fighters in Yemen. By August 2017, the UN had documented 1,702 cases of child recruitment since March 2015, 67 percent of which were attributable to formerly aligned Houthi-Saleh forces. About 100 of the verified cases included recruiting children younger than 15, the recruitment or use of whom is a war crime.

The Houthis have recruited, trained, and deployed children in the current conflict. “Yasser,” 20, said that the fear of forced recruitment drove him and two of his close friends to flee Sanaa in 2017. The Houthis had recruited his younger brother, 15 or 16, who then patrolled neighborhoods, worked at checkpoints, and received training. “He takes our father’s weapon when he goes.” The Houthis provided him with food and qat, but no pay. “He goes with seven of his friends around the same age,” Yasser said. Houthi supporters came to their neighborhood almost daily and talked to young men and boys about becoming fighters.

“Salem,” who was displaced by fighting on the western coast, said that children as young as 13 “were ruling us, they have the guns,” while his family remained in Houthi-controlled Mafraq. His family was first displaced to Houthi-controlled Ibb, but they fled to Aden in early 2018 after a local leader warned them the Houthis might forcibly recruit their children.

The local leader, who was also trying to send his children away to protect them, said the Houthis were going around to people’s homes, asking how many men and boys lived there, and registering names for fighting. Their neighbors said families had to provide either money or a person to fight, often a child: “They paid, or they take the kids, so they paid… They would take people who were 16, 17, if they can carry a weapon.” His relative, “Ali,” 16, said that in December 2017 Houthi men on a truck came to his secondary school. “I saw three Houthis with guns trying to take the kids… some of the kids were crying.” He and his friend scaled the school’s wall and ran away. Salem, Ali and about 70 other members of 13 related families were staying together in an abandoned school in Aden when Human Rights Watch interviewed them.

International law sets 18 as the minimum age for participation in direct hostilities, which includes using children as scouts, couriers, and at checkpoints. Under Yemeni law, 18 is the minimum age for military service.

Forces that capture child soldiers should treat them as victims of rights violations, not simply as captured fighters, and abide by international standards. The Paris Principles on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups states: “The release, protection and reintegration of children unlawfully recruited or used must be sought at all times, without condition and must not be dependent on any parallel release or demobilization process for adults.”

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Ensure that no children take part in fighting in Hodeida;
  • Clarify to affiliated forces that recruiting children is unlawful even if they are not serving a military function;
  • Appropriately investigate and punish officers who allow children in their units or are responsible for the war crime of recruiting or using children under 15; and
  • Provide former child soldiers all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration.

 

Investigate Unlawful Attacks

None of the countries that make up the Saudi-led coalition have publicly clarified which alleged unlawful attacks their forces participated in. The investigative body the coalition created in 2016 does not meet international standards and has absolved coalition forces of responsibility in the vast majority of attacks investigated. The coalition has not compensated victims of unlawful strikes or their families, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine.

In response to Human Rights Watch letters in 2016 and 2017, the Houthi-controlled Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed a willingness to investigate reports of landmine use, but not until the conflict ended. Human Rights Watch has not been able to identify any concrete steps the Houthis have taken to investigate potentially unlawful attacks or hold anyone to account for violations.

Countries that are parties to the armed conflict should:

 

  • Impartially and transparently investigate credible reports of alleged violations of the laws of war and make public their findings. Individuals implicated in war crimes should be appropriately prosecuted;
  • Conduct investigations using a full range of tools, including interviews with witnesses, surveillance and targeting videos, and forensic analyses. Public findings should include accountability measures taken against individual personnel, redress provided to victims or their families, and an explanation of the process used;
  • Provide compensation for wrongful civilian deaths, injuries and harm. The coalition should develop effective systems for civilians to file claims for condolence or ex gratia payments and to evaluate the claims; and
  • The US, UK, and France should cease all weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia because of Saudi Arabia’s widespread violations of the laws of war, and weapons transfers to other coalition members that are likely to use them unlawfully.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

When the head teacher found out that I was pregnant, he called me to his office and told me, “You have to leave our school immediately because you are pregnant.”
—Jamida K., Kahama, Tanzania, April 2014

We don’t allow pregnant girls to continue with school. We ask her to go home and return after the baby is born. If she attends pregnant, she can be ridiculed by other students and be a bad influence.
—Kenneth Tengani Malemia, deputy head teacher, Dyeratu Primary School, Chikwawa district, Malawi, September 2013

The African continent has the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, according to the United Nations. Every year, thousands of girls become pregnant at the time when they should be learning history, algebra, and life skills. Adolescent girls who have early and unintended pregnancies face many social and financial barriers to continuing with formal education.

All girls have a right to education regardless of their pregnancy, marital or motherhood status. The right of pregnant—and sometimes married—girls to continue their education has evoked emotionally charged discussions across African Union member states in recent years. These debates often focus on arguments around “morality,” that pregnancy outside wedlock is morally wrong, emanating from personal opinions and experiences, and wide-ranging interpretations of religious teachings about sex outside of marriage. The effect of this discourse is that pregnant girls – and to a smaller extent, school boys who impregnate girls– have faced all kinds of punishments, including discriminatory practices that deny girls the enjoyment of their right to education. In some of the countries researched for this report, education is regarded as a privilege that can be withdrawn as a punishment.

“Angela,” 20, walks with her son near her home after returning from school in Migori county, western Kenya. She is a Form 4 student at a girls-only school. Angela became pregnant when her trainee teacher offered to pay some of her primary school fees in return for sex. Her father tried to marry her off to suitors after she gave birth, but Angela’s mother fought against this and supported her return to school. She wants to go to college and study nursing.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

But the international legal obligation of all governments to provide all children with an education, without discrimination, is clear.

In 2013, all the countries that make up the African Union (AU) adopted Agenda 2063, a continent-wide economic and social development strategy. Under this strategy, African governments committed to build Africa’s “human capital,” which it terms “its most precious resource,” through sustained investments in education, including “elimination of gender disparities at all levels of education.” Two years after the adoption of Agenda 2063, African governments joined other countries in adopting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a development agenda whose focus is to ensure that “no one is left behind,” including a promise to ensure inclusive and quality education for all. African governments have also adopted ambitious goals to end child marriage, introduce comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health education, and address the very high rates of teenage pregnancy across the continent that negatively affect girls’ education.

A painting by Rafiki Social Development Organization, displayed outside its office in Kahama district, Shinyanga, Tanzania. The painting aims to create awareness about sexual abuse of girls on their way to schools, and shows a female student refusing to take money from an adult man, saying “Sidanganyiki” or “I cannot be deceived” in Kiswahili. Photograph by Elin Martínez.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

Yet many AU member states will fail in this promise if they continue to exclude tens of thousands of girls from education because they are pregnant or married. Although all AU countries have made human rights commitments to protect pregnant girls and adolescent mothers’ right to education, in practice adolescent mothers are treated very differently depending on which country they live in.

A growing number of AU governments have adopted laws and policies that protect adolescent girls’ right to stay in school during pregnancy and motherhood. There are good policies and practices to point to, and indeed, far more countries protect young mothers’ right to education in national law or policy than discriminate against them. These countries can encourage countries that lack adequate policies, and particularly persuade the minority of countries that have adopted or encouraged punitive and discriminatory measures against adolescent mothers to adopt human rights compliant policies.

Front cover of Zambia’s “Guidelines for the Re-Entry Policy,” adopted in 2007.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

This report provides information on the status of laws, policies, and practices that block or support pregnant or married girls’ access to education. It also provides recommendations for much-needed reforms.

Gabon, Kenya, and Malawi are among the group of 26 African countries that have adopted “continuation” or “re-entry” policies, and strategies, to ensure that pregnant girls can resume their education after giving birth. However, implementation and adherence vary across these countries, especially regarding the length of time the girl should be absent from school, the processes for withdrawal and re-entry, and available support structures within schools and communities for adolescent mothers to remain in school.

“Evelina,” 17, from Migori county, western Kenya, dropped out of the first year of lower secondary school when she got pregnant. She received no information or advice about policies that allowed her to continue going to school while she was pregnant. She wants to continue studying so she can find a job and care for her child.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

Although the trend of more governments opting to keep adolescent mothers in school is strong, implementation of their laws and policies frequently falls short, and monitoring of adolescent mothers’ re-entry to education remains weak overall. There are also concerns about punitive and harmful aspects of some policies. For example, some governments do not apply a “continuation policy” for re-entry – where a pregnant student would be allowed to remain in school for as long as she chooses to. Long periods of maternity leave, complex re-entry processes such as those that require medical certification, as in Senegal, or letters to various education officials in Malawi, or stringent conditions that girls apply for readmission to a different school, can negatively affect adolescent mothers’ willingness to return to school or ability to catch up with learning.

Many other factors contribute to thousands of adolescent mothers not continuing formal education. High among them is the lack of awareness about re-entry policies among communities, girls, teachers, and school officials that girls can and should go back to school. Girls are most often deeply affected by financial barriers, the lack of support, and high stigma in communities and schools alike.

Some governments have focused on tackling these barriers, as well as the root causes of teenage pregnancies and school dropouts, for example by:

  • Removing primary and secondary school fees to ensure all students can access school equally, and targeting financial support for girls at risk of dropping out through girls’ education strategies, as in Rwanda;
  • Providing social and financial support for adolescent mothers, as in South Africa;
  • Providing special accommodations for young mothers at school, for instance time for breast-feeding or time off when babies are ill or to attend health clinics, as in Cape Verde and Senegal;
  • Providing girls with a choice of access to morning or evening shifts, as in Zambia;
  • Establishing nurseries or early childhood centers close to schools, as in Gabon;
  • Providing school-based counselling services for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, as in Malawi; and
  • Facilitating access to sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community, as in Ivory Coast, and access to a range of contraceptive methods, and in South Africa, safe and legal abortion.

Despite these positive steps by some African countries, a significant number still impose laws and policies that directly discriminate against pregnant girls and adolescent mothers in education. For example, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania expel pregnant girls from school and deny adolescent mothers the right to study in public schools. In most cases, such policies end a girl’s chances of ever going back to school, and expose her and her children to child marriage, hardship, and abuse. In practice, girls are expelled, but not the boys responsible for the pregnancy where they are also in school.

“Ruhiyyeh,” 17, from the city of Kolda, southern Senegal, got pregnant when she was in the final year of lower secondary school. The school’s principal and a secondary school teacher encouraged her to go back to school after delivery, and now ensure she gets time off when her baby is unwell. Photograph by Elin Martínez.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch also found that 24 African countries lack a re-entry policy or law to protect pregnant girls’ right to education, which leads to irregular enforcement of compulsory education at the school level. We found that countries in northern Africa generally lack policies related to the treatment of teenage pregnancies in school, but in parallel, impose heavy penalties and punishments on girls and women who are reported to have had sexual relationships outside wedlock. Countries such as Morocco and Sudan, for example, apply morality laws that allow them to criminally charge adolescent girls with adultery, indecency, or extra-marital sex.

Some countries resort to harmful means to identify pregnant girls, and sometimes stigmatize and publicly shame them. Some conduct mandatory pregnancy tests on girls, either as part of official government policy or individual school practice. These tests are usually done without the consent of girls and infringe on their right to privacy and dignity. Some girls fear such humiliation that they will preemptively drop out of school when they find out they are pregnant, while others will go to great lengths to procure unsafe abortions, putting their health and lives at risk.

Students enrolled in the final year of lower secondary school in the classroom in a village in Kolda region, southern Senegal. Adolescent mothers and married girls study in this school. Photograph by Elin Martínez.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Government policies that discriminate against girls on the basis of pregnancy or marriage violate their international and regional human rights obligations, and often contravene national laws and constitutional rights and undermine national development agendas.

Leaving pregnant girls and adolescent mothers behind is harmful to the continent’s development. Leaving no one behind means that African governments should recommit to their inclusive development goals and human rights obligations toward all children, and ensure they adopt human rights compliant policies at the national and local levels to protect pregnant and adolescent mothers’ right to education. Early and unintended pregnancies jeopardize educational attainment for thousands of girls. For this reason, governments need to prevent them by ensuring their educational institutions provide knowledge, information, and skills, so that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers can enjoy their right to continue their education.

Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa.

 

Recommendations

To All African Union Governments

Immediately End Pregnancy-Based Discrimination in Schools in Policy and Practice

  • End, in policy and practice, the expulsion of female students who become pregnant or get married and provide accommodations for pregnant and married students in schools.
  • Immediately end pregnancy testing in schools.
  • Ensure cases of sexual harassment and abuse, including by bus drivers, teachers, or school officials, are reported to appropriate enforcement authorities, including police, and that cases are duly investigated and prosecuted.

Ensure Pregnant Students and Young Mothers Can Resume Education

  • Immediately adopt positive re-entry policies and expedite regulations that facilitate pregnant girls and young mothers of school-going age returning to primary and secondary school.
  • Ensure that pregnant and married students who wish to continue their education can do so in an environment free from stigma and discrimination, including by allowing female students to choose an alternative school, and monitor schools’ compliance.
  • Link pregnant, married and student mothers to health services, such as family planning clinics.
  • Introduce formal flexible school programs, including evening classes or part-time classes, for girls who are not able to attend full-time classes, and ensure students receive full accreditation and certificates of secondary education upon completion.
  • Include adolescent mothers in programs that target female students at risk of dropping out, and ensure targeted programs include measures to provide financial assistance to at risk students, counselling, school grants, and distribution of inclusive educational materials and sanitation facilities, including menstrual hygiene management kits in schools.
  • Expand options for childcare and early childhood development centers for children of adolescent mothers so that girls of school-going age can attend school.
  • Ensure that humanitarian education responses in conflict contexts include the particular needs of pregnant girls and young mothers of school-going age.
  • Provide access to information to parents, guardians, and community leaders about the harmful physical, educational, and psychological effects of adolescent pregnancy and the importance of pregnant girls and young mother continuing with school.
  • Provide school-based counselling services for students who are pregnant, married or mothers. Provide long-term psychosocial support to adolescent survivors of sexual abuse and harassment.
  • Engage with teachers and other education officials to support the education of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, and to ensure they guarantee a safe school environment.
  • Improve Data and Monitor Implementation of School Policies on Pregnant Students. Schools should:
    • Improve monitoring and data collection on girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or marriage;
    • Develop and implement mechanisms to follow up on and keep track of girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or marriage, with the aim of initiating their return to school;
    • Monitor implementation of school re-entry policies by keeping data on the number of pregnant and married students who get readmitted, their school attendance and completion rates; and use the information to improve support for pregnant, married, and student mothers.

Urgently Tackle Barriers that Impede Girls’ Education

  • Ensure primary education is genuinely free by removing tuition fees, and treat access to free secondary education as an urgent and immediate priority rather than as a goal to be realized progressively over time. Take steps to address the indirect costs of primary and secondary schooling.
  • Raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 for both boys and girls and take all necessary measures to eliminate child marriages in law and practice, including by implementing comprehensive and well-resourced national strategies for combating child marriage, and sharing best practices.
  • Implement nationwide programs to empower girls to attend school. Design programs tailored to local communities that respond to children’s needs and aim to build their skills on a range of issues, including: awareness about sexual and reproductive health, menstrual hygiene management, awareness about sexual consent, sexual violence, and child marriage, as well as mechanisms for reporting any abuse and obtaining assistance.
  • Implement public information campaigns directed at families, community leaders, and adolescent boys and girls that address the stigma around teenage pregnancy, sexuality, and reproduction, and discuss the importance of sex education and promote ways for parents to talk about healthy sexual practices.

Guarantee Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights

  • Include mandatory sexual and reproductive health education as a stand-alone, examinable subject in the primary and secondary school curriculum.
  • Ensure that the mandatory national curriculum on sexuality and reproductive health complies with international standards and that it:
    • Includes comprehensive information on sexuality and reproductive health, including information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, responsible sexual behavior, and prevention of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Include information and skills related to gender equality, the ability to form healthy relationships, consent to sex and marriage and the difference, and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, including avenues for reporting and redress;
    • Is mandatory, age-appropriate, and scientifically accurate;
    • Include modules appropriate for teaching in primary school; and
    • Is informed by consultations with young people.
  • Adequately train teachers to teach the curriculum impartially.
  • Ensure that sexual and reproductive health education and information is accessible to students with disabilities and is available in accessible formats such as braille or easy-to-understand formats.
  • Adopt laws that set out the minimum age of consent to sexual activity and access to sexual and reproductive health services, equal for adolescent boys and girls, in accordance with international human rights norms and best practice.
  • Ensure adolescents can access community-based health services that are adolescent-friendly and ensure they can access accurate information and appropriate contraception to curb teenage pregnancies, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases. Third party permission for accessing these services should not be required and member states should strive to ensure that user fees are not charged for contraception.
  • Ensure health centers do not stigmatize adolescents who are sexually active, and that they are staffed with medical personnel qualified to provide confidential and comprehensive adolescent health services.
  • Take all necessary steps, both immediate and incremental, to decriminalize abortion and ensure that adolescent girls and young women have informed and free access to safe and legal abortion services as an element of their exercise of their reproductive and other human rights.

To the African Union

  • Call on member states to end pregnancy-based discrimination in schools and related abuses, including mandatory pregnancy testing.
  • Consider conducting a continental campaign to support education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers. Such a campaign would build on achievements of the Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa and the African Youth Decade Plan of Action, as well as other regional initiatives including the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), the African Women’s Decade and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016 – 2025 (CESA 16-25).
  • Conduct a comprehensive study on existing laws, policies, and practices that support or block education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers among African Union member states, with the aim of facilitating a coordinated and comprehensive approach among countries and sharing of good practices.
  • Develop a human rights compliant model re-entry policy and guidelines for governments to adhere to while developing laws, policies, or guidelines to support education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers at national and local levels. Encourage governments to adopt progressive policies that permit pregnant students to remain in school for as long as they choose to, and not prescribe a rigid compulsory leave after giving birth.

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

  • Call on governments to repeal legislation and policies that discriminate against pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, including criminal laws that impose heavy criminal charges for sex outside marriage.
  • Monitor governments’ compliance around implementation of policies to support education for pregnant and married girls, and adolescent mothers during government’s reviews under the relevant human rights instruments.

To Development Partners and UN Agencies

  • Urge African Union member states to comply with their international and regional human rights obligations. In particular, urge and support governments, through technical and financial assistance, to:
    • End, in policy and practice, the expulsion from schools of female students who become pregnant or get married and immediately end pregnancy testing in schools wherever it is practiced.
    • Expedite the adoption of human rights compliant continuation and re-entry policies for parents of school-going age. Encourage governments to adopt progressive policies that permit pregnant students to remain in school for as long as they would like, and not require compulsory leave after giving birth.
    • Introduce a mandatory comprehensive sexuality education curriculum in primary and secondary schools that complies with international human rights standards; implement this curriculum as an examinable, independent subject.
    • Financially and technically support a comprehensive study on existing laws, policies and practices that support or block education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers among African Union member states, with the aim of facilitating a coordinated and comprehensive approach among countries and sharing of good practices.
    • Support the development of a human rights compliant model policy and guidelines for governments to adhere to in developing policies or guidelines to support education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers at national and local levels.
    • Ensure primary education is genuinely free by removing tuition fees, and access to free secondary education is treated as an urgent and immediate priority rather than as a goal to be realized progressively over time. Support governments to take steps to address the indirect costs of primary and secondary schooling.

 

Methodology

Human Rights Watch conducted a study of laws, policies and practices related to pregnant adolescents in education in all member states of the African Union. We also reviewed governments’ education, health, and reproductive health sector strategies and reports, academic research, analysis of laws and practice conducted by national and international organizations on this topic, as well as newspaper articles.

Human Rights Watch contacted six ministries of education and/or country delegations to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including Angola, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Mali, to seek official responses on policies and practices applicable in these countries. We also consulted national and regional civil society organizations working on girls’ education and health.

The report includes testimony from pregnant girls and adolescent mothers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Malawi, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. It draws on Human Rights Watch’s extensive research on the rights of girls in Africa, including abuses related to child marriage, barriers to girls’ primary and secondary education, sexual and gender-based violence, and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.[1]

 

I. Background: Adolescent Pregnancy
and Girls’ Education in Africa

I fell pregnant last year when I was 14 years old. I had stopped going to school that same year because my mother … could not afford to send me to school. I had an affair with an older man who had a wife. I received no sex education at all, and when I had sex with this man I fell pregnant. I wish to go back to school because I am still a child.
—Abigail C., 15, Zimbabwe, October 2015

Adolescent Pregnancy in Africa

Adolescent pregnancy has been stubbornly high in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the world’s highest prevalence.[2] Every year thousands of African girls become pregnant right at the time they should be learning history, algebra, and life skills.[3] Girls from poor and more marginalized households and communities are among the most affected.[4]

The main causes of teenage pregnancy in Africa include sexual exploitation and abuse, poverty, lack of information about sexuality and reproduction, and lack of access to services such as family planning and modern contraception.[5] Many of these pregnancies are unplanned and many happen in the context of child marriages, a big problem in the continent. About 38 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18 and 12 percent before age 15.[6] African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally.[7] Yet many African Union governments have failed to adopt a minimum age of marriage of 18 to help protect girls against this abuse and uphold their rights to and through education.[8]

Stigma around Adolescent Sex and Pregnancy Outside Marriage

In many African countries, education and health personnel often shame, stigmatize and sometimes isolate adolescent girls who have early and unintended pregnancies. Condemnation by political leaders or in the media can encourage and exacerbate their stigmatization. Such girls also face increased vulnerability to violence and abuse, or greater poverty and economic hardship.[9]

When it comes to schooling, some governments use morality-based arguments to exclude pregnant girls and young mothers. Allowing them to continue their education, the argument goes, will normalize out-of-wedlock pregnancy, absolve the girls of punishment, and create a “domino effect” by which more girls become pregnant. [10]Such arguments are not grounded in any authoritative studies.[11] In Malawi, Senegal, South Sudan and Tanzania, girls who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that they were committed to their education, and are already fully aware of the difficulty of becoming a young mother without additional penalties being imposed.

Deficient Information and Education on Sexuality and Reproduction for Adolescents

From a young age, many children are exposed to conflicting or negative ideas about sexuality at home or at school. During puberty, families, communities, and schools may especially impose stereotypical expectations of boys’ and girls’ roles, behaviors, and standards of morality. Although such attitudes may stop many children from asking questions, according to UN surveys of adolescent sexual behavior, it does not stop them experimenting: many young people are having sexual relationships, often from a very young age.[12] Many do so without essential information and without adequate access to contraception.[13]

Across the African Union, many governments have failed to implement comprehensive, scientifically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality and reproductive education.[14] This means that many girls and boys have limited understanding of changes in their bodies and adolescent sexual behavior, prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, the menstrual cycle, basic reproduction, and sexual and gender-based violence. In Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, many girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch did not know they could become pregnant the first time they had sexual intercourse.[15]

Some countries continue to teach abstinence from sexual relationships before marriage.[16] Global scientific, sociological and human rights evidence shows that an abstinence-only curriculum leads to no visible change in adolescent sexual behavior.[17] A heavy focus on abstinence also isolates and humiliates many adolescents who have already had sex, and prevents them from obtaining the information and services that will protect them from abuse, unwanted pregnancy, or HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.[18]

Moreover, very few countries have adopted laws that clarify the age of consent to sexual activity.[19] Some countries still criminalize consensual sexual activity between adolescents, or sexual relationships outside marriage.[20] As part of their efforts on adolescent reproductive rights, UN agencies and human rights treaty monitoring bodies have called on governments to introduce an acceptable minimum legal age for sexual consent, balancing child protection and a child’s evolving capacities.[21] According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which provides authoritative commentary on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states should include a “legal presumption that adolescents are competent to seek and have access to preventive or time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health commodities and services.” They should also avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity.[22]

The majority of AU countries do not provide accessible adolescent-friendly, confidential sexual and reproductive health services. Moreover, most AU countries criminalize abortion in most circumstances, meaning girls with unplanned pregnancies must either carry those pregnancies to term against their wishes, or obtain clandestine—and often unsafe—abortions.[23] Of all the regions in the world, Africa has the highest number of deaths from unsafe abortion.[24]

Key Barriers to Girls’ Education

I am 16, I ran away from home to get married when I was 14 after I had sex with my boyfriend, who was 21. I was afraid my family would discover that I had had sex, so I went to live with my boyfriend as his wife. I was in grade seven at the time and stopped going to school. After about seven months my husband and his three brothers began to complain that I was not getting pregnant. He never beat me but always complained that I was barren. I used to do a lot of hard work washing clothes, cleaning and cooking for my husband and his relatives. After two years of marriage he sent me away saying I am barren, and my mother took me back. My wish is to go back to school but my mother cannot afford to send me back to school.
—Munesu C., 16, Zimbabwe, October 2015

Across the African continent, girls face unique challenges in education attainment due to structural and systematic gender inequalities. Despite government efforts, there remain significant gender disparities in educational opportunities and clear gender gaps in learning and skills achievement.[25]

The barriers to girls’ education are wide-ranging and interlinked, but few African governments have tackled the key factors that drive millions of girls out of school, including:

  • High school fees combined with indirect costs of attending primary and secondary school[26];
  • Unsafe school environments including sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation by teachers, school officials and classmates; stigma linked to pregnancy and marital status; corporal punishment by teachers and school officials, which sometimes amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment; and long distances to schools in rural areas that expose girls to sexual violence and other safety risks[27];
  • Discrimination by teachers and school officials, and lack of accessibility for girls with disabilities[28];
  • Poor infrastructure including lack of adequate water and toilets, and running water, to manage menstrual periods[29]; and
  • Harmful gender norms and stereotypes that do not support education of girls and women, discrimination, and cultural practices such as child marriage.[30]

Pregnancy is both a barrier to girls’ continuing their education and, often a consequence of girls dropping out. Numerous studies have shown that the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married as a child and or to become pregnant during her teenage years.[31]

 

II. Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers’ Education: Human Rights Obligations of Governments

African governments are bound by international human rights law to provide free, compulsory primary education and to ensure that secondary education is available and accessible to all without discrimination.[32]The right to secondary education includes “the completion of basic education and consolidation of the foundations for life-long learning and human development.”[33]

Human Rights Watch has called on governments around the world t0 take immediate measures to ensure that secondary education is available and accessible to all free of charge. It is recognized that many governments in Africa and elsewhere face serious resource constraints that limit their ability to immediately realize important human rights goals such as free secondary education for all. Human Rights Watch nonetheless believes that it is important for governments to treat access to free secondary education as an urgent and immediate priority rather than as a goal to be realized progressively over time.

At the African regional level, the AU has adopted a legal framework that protects the rights of all girls to education. All but seven African countries have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which obligates governments to take special measures to ensure equal access to education for girls, raise the minimum age of marriage to 18, and take all appropriate measures to ensure that girls who become pregnant before completing their education have the right to continue their education.[34]

The African Youth Charter–ratified by more than half of African governments– obligates governments to ensure girls and young women who become pregnant or married before completing their education have an opportunity to continue their education.[35] The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child have called on states to put in place measures to retain all children in school, put in place measures to achieve equal access to education by girls and boys, and to encourage pregnant girls to attend or return to school. These bodies have jointly stated that, “it is compulsory… to facilitate the retention and re-entry of pregnant or married girls in schools… and to develop alternative education programmes… in circumstances where women are unable or unwilling to return to school following pregnancy or marriage.”[36]

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the African women’s rights treaty, provides explicit obligations to guarantee the sexual and reproductive rights of girls.[37] This includes the right to access medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest or where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s mental and physical health and life.[38]

 

III. Teenage Pregnancy and Education Exclusion
in the African Union

There was a [private] tuition teacher who was teaching me privately. I was sexually [abused] by the teacher until I found myself pregnant. After I discovered I was pregnant, I told the teacher and he disappeared. My dream was shattered then. I was expelled from school. I was expelled from home, too. I went to live with my friend until I gave birth. I was taking care of my baby on my own by doing small business. Until now.
—Imani, 22, Mwanza, Tanzania, January 2016

A growing number of African Union countries have adopted laws and policies that protect adolescent girls’ right to stay in school during pregnancy and motherhood. These countries can serve as a model for many other countries that lack adequate policies, and particularly persuade the minority of countries that have adopted or encouraged punitive and discriminatory measures against adolescent mothers to adopt human rights compliant policies. Although it is noteworthy that more governments are opting to keep adolescent mothers in school, their laws and policies are not always implemented fully, and monitoring of adolescent mothers’ re-entry to education remains weak overall.

Countries with Continuation or Re-entry Laws and Policies

Twenty-six AU countries have laws, policies or strategies in place to guarantee girls’ right to go back to school after pregnancy.[39]

Within this group of countries, six have laws that allow girls to continue their education.[40] However, the lack of policies that stipulate the process to be followed by schools in order to secure girls’ continuation after pregnancy often results in girls being expelled from school.[41]

Countries with national laws related to pregnant girls’ and mothers’ right to education

Benin

Democratic Republic of Congo

Lesotho

Mauritania

Nigeria

South Sudan

Four countries have policies or strategies that provide “continuation:” they allow the pregnant girl to remain in school, and do not prescribe a mandatory absence after giving birth.[42]

Countries with policies or strategies that provide “continuation”

Cape Verde

Gabon

Ivory Coast

Rwanda

Fifteen countries have conditional re-entry policies that require pregnant girls and young mothers to drop out of school but provide avenues to return, provided girls fulfill certain conditions.[43] Re-entry policies typically require that a student leaves school once she is found to be pregnant. In some cases, if the person responsible for the pregnancy is a student in the school he will also need to take leave of absence.[44] The girl may be readmitted – sometimes in a different school – after giving birth.[45] Policies and practice vary especially regarding the length of time the girl should be absent from school and the processes for withdrawal and re-entry.[46]

Countries with “re-entry” policies that set out conditions for adolescent mothers

Botswana

Burundi

Cameroon

Gambia

Kenya

Liberia

Madagascar

Malawi

Mozambique

Namibia

Senegal

South Africa

Swaziland

Zambia

Zimbabwe

 

Some conditions for re-entry are difficult for girls to meet.[47] In some cases, these are complicated or unclear, or include harmful directives such as mandatory pregnancy screening.[48] In Malawi, for example, girls are immediately suspended upon discovery of their pregnancy for one year but may be readmitted at the beginning of the next academic year following their suspension. A young mother who wishes to reapply for admission must send two requests: one to the Ministry of Education and one to the school she wishes to attend.[49] In Senegal, adolescent mothers must present a medical certificate showing they are healthy and fit to study in order to be re-admitted.[50]

Beyond their re-entry policies, some of these governments have addressed specific barriers to young mothers’ returning to school, for example:

  • Removing primary and secondary school fees and indirect costs;
  • Providing special accommodations for young mothers at school, for instance time for breast-feeding or allowing girls to take time off when their children are ill[51];
  • Implementing flexible learning arrangements, such as giving girls the option to access morning or evening shifts[52];
  • Providing social and financial support to adolescent mothers[53];
  • Establishing nurseries or early childhood centers close to secondary schools[54]; and
  • Providing school-based counselling services for pregnant girls and/or adolescent mothers.[55]

Senegal: Supporting the Inclusion of Young Mothers

 

In 2007, Senegal adopted a circular on “the management of marriage and pregnancies at school,” which orders schools to temporarily suspend girls from education until childbirth for “security” reasons. To go back to school, girls must show a medical certificate that shows they are ready to return to school. Girls can get these certificates when they visit local health clinics or hospitals.

In practice, Human Rights Watch found that girls are allowed to stay in school until they are unable to attend, although some schools ask girls to drop out during the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. Pregnant girls or young mothers can also take examinations. A principal in the southern town of Vélingara said that supporting pregnant girls is crucial to ensure they return once they are ready to resume their education: “There’s an awareness among staff that if they [young mothers] are late, or absent because of their babies, we understand [them]. [We also accommodate] pregnant girls who may fall asleep in class, or those who request some food because they are hungry.”

Fatoumata, 17, lives in Sédhiou and attends a secondary school in the city. She became pregnant when she was 16 and was allowed to stay at the school. A month after giving birth, she continued going to school. Her grandmother took care of her baby daughter. “I didn’t want to have a baby,” Fatoumata told Human Rights Watch. “I’ve told all my friends that they do not try to have a baby… it causes many problems… But if you do have a baby, then you should go back to school after the birth. There’s no need to feel ashamed. Mistakes are human.” Fatoumata was not taught about sexual and reproductive health at school. “It would have been very useful to have information about contraceptive methods,” she said.

Human Rights Watch found that in some Senegalese schools, teachers focus their discussions on abstinence and virginity prior to marriage. Some schools host school clubs to talk to students about contraceptive methods, and prevention of pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Human Rights Watch found that in some clubs, girls are falsely told that contraceptives are bad for girls who are not married because they reduce their chances of getting pregnant or can lead to the fetus’s death during pregnancy.

In many cases, poor dissemination at the school level and lack of awareness of these policies by teachers, communities, and girls themselves limit their effectiveness.[56] For example, education officials do not proactively follow-up on girls who left school due to pregnancy to initiate re-entry. Data is largely lacking on the number of girls who drop out due to pregnancy; teenage mothers that have been readmitted to school under the policies; the challenges they face after readmission; and, the performance of adolescent mothers once they are back at school.[57]

Some countries have moved from restrictive and even punitive policies to providing pathways for girls to continue.[58] In 2017, for example, Cape Verde reversed its expulsion policy, providing pregnant students with maternity leave, and committed to guarantee reasonable accommodations in schools with young mothers.[59]

At time of writing, in Ghana and Uganda, government and civil society actors were discussing school re-entry policies or guidelines for young mothers’ education.[60]

Countries affected by armed conflict typically have high pregnancy rates due, in part, to widespread sexual violence committed by members of national armed forces and armed groups, and high levels of poverty that facilitates sexual exploitation. These countries especially need strong re-entry policies. Crisis situations increase gender inequality and gender-based discrimination, which is already present in many countries undergoing conflict. Some survivors of sexual violence never return to school because of stigma and humiliation, and those who do return to school often lack support to continue their education.[61] The Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, for example, have laws that protect young mothers’ right to go back to school.[62] In contrast, Human Rights Watch found that the Central African Republic lacks a targeted law or policy.[63]

Human Rights Watch found that education needs-analysis and responses in humanitarian crises seldom include adolescent girls with children.[64] The failure to provide for the education needs of adolescent mothers, including those who are survivors of rape, in humanitarian settings not only limits access to education, but also exposes already vulnerable children to more violence, hardship, and poverty.

Countries that Exclude Adolescent Mothers

A minority of AU governments have continued to explicitly exclude pregnant girls from school. Senior government representatives in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania have publicly declared that pregnant students are to be expelled from public school.[65]

In these countries, politicians have frequently insisted on punitive measures imposed on girls they accuse of being “moral failures”.[66] In Tanzania, government officials and police have gone so far as arresting pregnant girls and harassing their families to force them to confess who had impregnated them.[67] Many of the girls Human Rights Watch interviewed who dropped out of school or were expelled due to pregnancy or marriage expressed regret at not being able to continue their education.[68]

Although Togo has declared to United Nations bodies that it no longer abides by a regulation that forbids pregnant girls from going to education facilities, it has not officially abrogated it or replaced it with a positive continuation or re-entry policy.[69]

Tanzania: Discriminatory Policies Against Pregnant Girls and Young Mothers

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, among others, have called on the government of Tanzania to cease its discriminatory ban on pregnant girls. Human rights experts have called on the government to urgently ensure pregnant girls and adolescent mothers can resume education in public schools.[70]

Prior to President John Magufuli’s 2017 public ban on pregnant girls and young mothers in schools, senior government education officials contended that pregnant girls do not belong in school and may exert negative influence on other girls, “normalizing” pregnancy in school.[71] The expulsion of pregnant girls from schools is permitted under Tanzania’s education regulations, which state that “the expulsion of a pupil from school may be ordered where … a pupil has … committed an offence against morality” or “entered into wedlock.” [72] The policy does not explain what offences against morality are, but school officials often interpret pregnancy as such an offense. Secondary school officials routinely subject girls to forced pregnancy testing as a disciplinary measure to expel pregnant students from schools.

In 2018, the government has been preparing new guidelines that will outline entry into an existing parallel public basic education system for young mothers, similar to an existing track for out-of-school children. Human Rights Watch found that this system is deficient, comes at a high cost for students, and does not equip students with the same skills or provide similar accreditation. Students pursuing this route have to pay fees that can amount to about 500,000 Tanzanian shillings (TZS) (US$220) annually, whereas students in public schools do not pay tuition or indirect costs. Access to good vocational training is only provided in a handful of colleges spread across the country. Moreover, adolescents who leave secondary school prematurely lack the accreditation and studies needed to pursue an official vocational education and skills training degree.[73]

Countries Lacking Clear Policies

Twenty-four countries lack a re-entry policy or law to protect pregnant girls’ right to education, including at least six countries that criminalize sex outside marriage. [74] This often leads to irregular enforcement of compulsory education at the school level, where school officials can decide what happens with a pregnant girl’s education. In Burkina Faso, for example, government officials have adopted a strategy to prevent teenage pregnancies, but school officials often ban pregnant girls from school because of strong social norms, as well as stigma attached to having children outside wedlock.[75] In Angola, for example, pregnant girls are asked to shift to night schools.[76]

Countries Lacking Clear Policies or Legislation

Angola

Burkina Faso

Central African Republic

Chad

Comoros

Djibouti

Eritrea

Ethiopia

Ghana

Guinea

Guinea-Bissau

Mauritius

Niger

Republic of Congo

São Tomé e Príncipe

Seychelles

Somalia

Uganda

Countries that Criminalize Sex Outside Marriage

Human Rights Watch found that countries in northern Africa generally lack policies related to the treatment of teenage pregnancies in school, but at the same time impose heavy punishments on girls and women who are reported to have had sexual relationships outside wedlock.[77] Countries such as Morocco and Sudan, for example, apply “morality laws” that allow them to prosecute adolescent girls or young women and charge them with adultery, indecency or extra-marital sex.[78] Girls and young women with children, who are often perceived to bring dishonor to their communities, are exposed to public ridicule, isolation, and prison sentences, and would not be expected to stay in school.[79]

 

Leave No Adolescent Girl Behind?

Countries with expulsion policies or decrees

Countries with conditional “re-entry” policies

Countries with policies or strategies that provide “continuation”

Countries with laws that protect pregnant girls’ right to stay in school or resume education, but lack a policy

Countries with laws or practices that criminalize girls and young women who become pregnant outside marriage

Countries with no laws or policies related to retention of pregnant girls or adolescent mothers in schools

Equatorial Guinea

Botswana

Cape Verde

Benin

Algeria

Angola

Sierra Leone

Burundi

Gabon

Democratic Republic of Congo

Egypt

Burkina Faso

Tanzania

Cameroon

Ivory Coast

Lesotho

Libya

Central African Republic

Togo

Gambia

Rwanda

Mauritania

Mauritania

Chad

 

Kenya

 

Nigeria

Morocco/Western Sahara

Comoros

Liberia

South Sudan

Sudan

Djibouti

Madagascar

 

Tunisia

Eritrea

Malawi

Ethiopia

Mali

Ghana

Mozambique

Guinea

Namibia

Guinea-Bissau

Senegal

Mauritius

South Africa

Niger

 Swaziland

Republic of Congo

Zambia

São Tomé and Príncipe

 Zimbabwe

Seychelles

Somalia

Uganda

 

IV. Opening School Doors to All Adolescent Girls

Pregnancy and child bearing are significant life changing events, more so for young girls. Going through these experiences while still at school – often stigmatized or rejected, with little to no support from the family or school, condemned by government officials, facing economic hardship and sometimes abuse and violence – can present serious challenges for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers to continue with their education.

However, instead of labeling pregnant girls and adolescent mothers as “moral” failures, punishing and excluding them from school, African governments have obligations under international human rights law to encourage and support the education and academic progress of these girls without discrimination.

Overall, a comprehensive approach is needed to reduce early and unplanned teenage pregnancies and support young mothers to continue with education. Good practice from across the continent shows that the education sector can play an important role in addressing teenage pregnancies, including by addressing some of its underlying causes and responding to the educational, health and social impacts and needs of pregnant and adolescent mothers.

African Union countries adhering to good policies and practice have at a minimum focused on the following measures: supporting girls to stay in school by removing primary and secondary school fees to ensure all students can equally access school; providing financial support for at-risk and highly vulnerable girls; ensuring schools are safe for students by ensuring schools have adequate child protection mechanisms; providing adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community; and ensuring access to a range of contraceptive methods, and safe and legal abortion.[80]

Schools should ensure the inclusion of all students and take all necessary measures to protect children from sexual abuse, exploitation, or harassment. Schools should also play a key role in providing students with the information and tools to understand changes in adolescence, sexuality, and reproduction, and provide information that enables them to make informed decisions, without the pressure, stereotypes, or myths shared by their friends or communities.

Governments should adopt mandatory national school curricula that includes sexual and reproductive health and rights, responsible sexual behavior, forming healthy relationships, prevention of early pregnancy and marriages, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, gender equality, and awareness and prevention of sexual exploitation and sexual and gender-based violence.[81] Evidence-based technical guidance shows that children should be introduced to age-appropriate content on sexuality and reproductive health in primary school, prior to puberty.[82]

 

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Elin Martínez, researcher in the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, and Agnes Odhiambo, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division. Research for this report was conducted by Elin Martínez, with assistance from Allison Cowie, Aurélie Edjidjimo Mabua and Elena Bagnera, Children’s Rights interns, Ochieng Angayo, research assistant, and Leslie Estrada, Children’s Rights Division associate.

The report was edited by Zama Neff, Children’s Rights Division executive director. James Ross, Legal and Policy director, and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director, provided legal and program reviews. Margaret Wurth, researcher in the Women’s Rights and Children’s Rights Divisions; Maria Burnett, Africa associate director, Corinne Dufka, West Africa associate director; and Mausi Segun, Africa Division executive director, provided expert reviews. The report also benefited from reviews by researchers in the Africa, and Middle East and North Africa divisions. Dr. Chi-Chi Undie, of the Population Council, provided external review. Peter Huvos provided translation assistance. Production assistance was provided by Leslie Estrada, Children’s Rights Division associate, and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

We would like to thank experts at national and international nongovernmental organizations, education ministries and United Nations agencies who assisted us in conducting the research for this report, and shared data and other information with us. These experts and representatives include: Van Daniel of Pairs Educateurs et Promoteurs sans Frontieres in Cameroon, Nicolas Effimbra of the Ministry of Education of Ivory Coast, Najlaa Elkhalifa, Desiré Essossinam Adjoke of Plan International Togo, Bernard Makachia of Education for Better Living, Sabrina Mahtani of Amnesty International, Trine Petersen of UNICEF Lesotho, Ndiaye Khadidiatou Sow of the Ministry of National Education of Senegal, and Boaz Waruku of the African Network Campaign on Education for All. We would also like to thank Dr. Chi-Chi Undie of Population Council for providing peer review, and Françoise Kpeglo Moudouthe, of Girls not Brides, for strategic advice.

 

 

[1] See for example, Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School”: Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/tanzania0217_web.pdf; “Zimbabwe: Scourge of Child Marriage: Set 18 as Minimum Age, Adopt National Action Plan,” 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/25/zimbabwe-scourge-child-marriage; “Ending Child Marriage in Africa: Opening the Door for Girls' Education, Health, and Freedom from Violence,” 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/09/ending-child-marriage-africa; No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/29/no-way-out/child-marriage-and-huma...; "I've Never Experienced Happiness:” Child Marriage in Malawi, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/03/06/ive-never-experienced-happiness/ch...; “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him”: Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/southSudan0313_forinsert.... See also, https://www.hrw.org/topic/womens-rights/child-marriage, for more Human Rights Watch research on child marriage in other parts of the world; https://www.hrw.org/topic/childrens-rights/education, for more on education; and https://www.hrw.org/topic/health/sexual-and-reproductive-health on sexual and reproductive rights.

[2] According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), countries such as Central African Republic, Niger, Chad, Angola, and Mali top the list of countries with the highest adolescent birth rate (above 178). In the 2010–2015 period, over 45 percent of women 20–24 reported having given birth for the first time by age 18. UNICEF, “Current Status + Progress – The highest rates of early childbearing are found in sub-Saharan African countries,” updated January 2018,https://data.unicef.org/topic/maternal-health/adolescent-health/ (accessed May 7, 2018).

[3] UNICEF, “Current Status + Progress,” 2018, http://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/ (accessed May 7, 2018); Marcos Delprato (Global Education Monitoring Report), “Education can break the bonds of child marriage,” November 18, 2015, https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/education-can-break-the... (accessed April 29, 2018); Théophane Nikyema (The African Child Policy Forum), “Why is Girls’ Education Key to Ending Child Marriage? Day of the African Child 2014,” https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/increasing-access-girls-education-key-end... (accessed April 29, 2018); Girls not Brides, “Child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa,” undated, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/region/sub-saharan-africa/ (accessed April 29, 2018).

[4] See United Nations Population Fund, “Adolescent Pregnancy,” undated, https://www.unfpa.org/adolescent-pregnancy (accessed May 9, 2018); Yetunde F. Oke, “Poverty and Teenage Pregnancy: The Dynamics in Developing Countries,” Ontario International Development Agency, 2010, http://www.oidaijsd.com/Files/2-5-6.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018); Clifford Odimegwu and Sibusiso Mkwananzi, “Factors Associated with Teen Pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa: A Multi-Country Cross-Sectional Study,” African Journal of Reproductive Health (Special Edition), 2016, https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajrh/article/viewFile/147897/137403 (accessed May 9, 2018).

[5] See Ibrahim Yakubu and Waliu Jawula Salisu, “Determinants of Adolescent Pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa: a Systematic Review,” 2018, Reproductive Health 15, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5787272 (accessed May 14, 2018); UNICEF, “Child Marriage, Adolescent Pregnancy and Family Formation in West and Central Africa: Patterns, Trends and Drivers of Change,” 2015, https://www.unicef.org/wcaro/english/Child_Mariage_Adolescent_Pregnancy_... (accessed May 9, 2018); Population Council, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” 2015, https://www.popcouncil.org/uploads/pdfs/2015STEPUP_EducSectorResp.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018).

[6] UNICEF, “Current Status + Progress.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] World Bank, “Duration of compulsory education (years),” https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.COM.DURS?end=2016&locations=ZG&s... (accessed April 29, 2018); Malala Fund, “12 Surprising Facts About Secondary School Around the World,” May 2015, https://blog.malala.org/12-surprising-facts-about-secondary-school-aroun... (accessed April 29, 2018); Girls not Brides, “Sub-Saharan Africa,” https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/region/sub-saharan-africa/ (accessed April 29, 2018); UNICEF and the International Center for Research on Women, “Child Marriage in the Middle East and North Africa,” 2017, https://www.unicef.org/mena/reports/child-marriage-middle-east-and-north-africa (accessed May 9, 2018), pp. 64- 67.

[9] Stigma persists even when adolescent girls become pregnant from sexual abuse by adults, including teachers, who exploit them by offering them money for school fees, or basic items like sanitary pads, telephone credit, or food. See Agnes Odhiambo (Human Rights Watch), “Tanzania Must Lift Cruel Ban on Teen Mothers Returning to School,” News Deeply, July 3, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/03/tanzania-must-lift-cruel-ban-teen-mo...; Human Rights Watch, “Globally Girls Struggle for Rights,” October 11, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/11/globally-girls-struggle-rights; “I Had a Dream to Finish School.”

[10] Rebecca Ratcliffe, “‘After getting pregnant, you are done’: no more school for Tanzania’s mums-to-be,” The Guardian, June 30, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jun/30/tanzania-pres... (accessed April 20, 2018); John Aglionby, “Tanzania’s enemies of the state: pregnant young women,” Financial Times, October 11, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/c7507730-712c-11e7-93ff-99f383b09ff9 (accessed April 20, 2018); The Patriotic Vanguard, “Sierra Leone: Fierce debate over pregnant schools girls,” December 7, 2015, http://www.thepatrioticvanguard.com/sierra-leone-fierce-debate-over-preg... (accessed April 20, 2018); Abibatu Kamara, “Sierra Leone News: ‘Pregnant girls will not be allowed in school’ – Education Minister,” Awoko, March 25, 2015, http://awoko.org/2015/03/25/sierra-leone-news-pregnant-girls-will-not-be-allowed-in-school-education-minister/ (accessed April 23, 2018); Cinnatus Dumbaya, “No Multiplication in Sierra Leone’s Classrooms, as Pregnant Girls Barred from School,” Ebola Deeply, March 17, 2015, http://archive.eboladeeply.org/articles/2015/03/7540/multiplication-sier... (accessed April 23, 2018); Doreen Umutesi, “Debate: Should pregnant girls be allowed to stay in school? (It’s school, not a maternity home),” The New Times, September 12, 2014, http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/180832 (accessed April 28, 2018).

[11] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Early and unintended pregnancy and the education sector – Evidence review and recommendations,” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002515/251509e.pdf; Mwegelo Kapinga (Pesa Check), “Will Banning School-going Mums Reduce Teen Pregnancy in Tanzania,” August 15, 2017, https://pesacheck.org/will-banning-schoolgoing-mums-reduce-teen-pregnanc... (accessed May 9, 2018).

[12] UNESCO, “Young People Today, Time to Act Now – Why adolescents and young people need comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services in Eastern and Southern Africa” 2013, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002234/223447e.pdf (accessed May 14, 2018), pp. 16- 17; United Nations Population Fund Open Data, “Sub-Saharan Africa – Adolescents and Young People Dashboard – Median Age at First Sexual intercourse (year),” undated, http://dashboard.unfpaopendata.org/ay_africa/ (accessed May 14, 2018).

[13] UNESCO, United Nations Population Fund et al, “International technical guidance on sexuality education – An evidence-informed approach,” 2018, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002607/260770e.pdf (accessed April 27, 2018), pp.12 – 13, 23 – 26; United Nations Population Fund, “Sub-Saharan Africa – Adolescents and Young People Dashboard,” http://dashboard.unfpaopendata.org/ay_africa/ (accessed April 27, 2018).

[14] In 2013, ministers of education and health from 20 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa adopted regional commitments to ensure quality comprehensive sexuality education, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, by the end of 2015. See “Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA),” December 7, 2013, https://hivhealthclearinghouse.unesco.org/sites/default/files/resources/ESACommitmentFINALAffirmedon7thDecember.pdf (accessed May 21, 2018); United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A review of 23 Countries in East and Southern Africa,” September 2017, http://esaro.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/2017-08-Laws%20and%20... (accessed April 23, 2018), p. 19 ; United Nations Population Fund, “Review of Adolescent and Youth Policies, Strategies and Laws in Selected Countries in West Africa,” http://wcaro.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/UNFPA_WAfrica_Youth_E... (accessed April 28, 2018), pp. 19 – 23.

[15] Human Rights Watch research conducted in Senegal in October 2017; Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School.”

[16] Human Rights Watch research conducted in Senegal in October 2017; Human Rights Watch, “Uganda: ‘Abstinence-Only’ Programs Hijack AIDS Success Story,” March 20, 2005, https://www.hrw.org/news/2005/03/30/uganda-abstinence-only-programs-hijack-aids-success-story; Vivian Agaba, “Contraceptives are not for children, says Museveni,” New Vision, July 2017, p. 7, https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1457221/contraceptives-child... (accessed April 23, 2018); Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[17] Janet Burns, “Research Confirms that Abstinence-Only Education Hurts Kids,” Forbes, August 23, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2017/08/23/research-confirms-th... (accessed February 17, 2018); John Santelli and Mary A. Ott, “Abstinence-only education policies and programs: A position paper for the Society for Adolescent Medicine,” 38 Journal of Adolescent Health, 2006, https://www.adolescenthealth.org/SAHM_Main/media/Advocacy/Positions/Jan-... (accessed February 18, 2018), pp. 83- 87; Human Rights Watch, ““The Less They Know, the Better,” Abstinence-Only HIV/AIDS Programs in Uganda,” March 2005, https://www.hrw.org/report/2005/03/30/less-they-know-better/abstinence-only-hiv/aids-programs-uganda.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with Dame Ndiaye, coordinator, Right Here, Right Now, Dakar, Senegal, August 12, 2017.

[19] United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A review of 23 Countries in East and Southern Africa,” p. 8.

[20] United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights- A review of 23 countries in East and Southern Africa,”  pp. 10 – 11.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Committee on the Rights of the Child, “General comment no. 20 (2016) on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence,” CRC/C/GC/20, December 6, 2016, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy... (accessed April 23, 2018), paras. 39 and 40.

[23] United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A review in 23 Countries in East and Southern Africa.” Guttmacher Institute, “Abortion Worldwide 2017: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access,” March 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-worldwide-2017 (accessed May 9, 2018); Human Rights Watch research conducted in Senegal in October 2017.

[24] Guttmacher Institute, “Factsheet – Abortion in Africa,” March 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/abortion-africa (accessed May 9, 2018).

[25] Global Education Monitoring Report and United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, “Gender review – Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education,” 2018, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002615/261593e.pdf (accessed May 5, 2018), pp. 11, 15, 18.

[26] Human Rights Watch, “Millions of Children Denied Free Secondary Education,” January 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/31/millions-children-denied-free-secondary-education.

[27] Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School;” “South Africa: Sexual Violence Rampant in Schools – Harassment and Rape Hampering Girls’ Education,” March 2001, https://www.hrw.org/legacy/english/docs/2001/03/27/safric324_txt.htm; Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, “Corporal punishment of children: summaries of prevalence and attitudinal research in the last 10 years – East and Southern Africa,” March 2016, http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/assets/pdfs/research-summaries/East... (accessed April 29, 2018); Elin Martínez (Human Rights Watch), “Tanzania is Not ‘Doing Well’ on Violence in Schools,” November 22, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/22/tanzania-not-doing-well-violence-schools.

[28] Human Rights Watch, “Africa: Make Girls’ Access to Education a Reality,” June 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/16/africa-make-girls-access-education-r...; Global Education Monitoring Report and United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, “Gender review – Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education;” Malala Fund, “Part 1 – The evidence of investing in girls’ education,” June 2017, https://blog.malala.org/part-1-21fc4dc2ca03 (accessed April 29, 2018).

[29] Human Rights Watch, “Submission from Human Rights Watch on Gender Equality to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation,” https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrw_submiss...; Global Education Monitoring Report, “One in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their period,” April 24, 2018, https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2018/04/24/one-in-ten-girls-in-sub... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[30] For example, some communities believe that girls will become pregnant at school, or that it does not make economic sense to educate girls who will eventually marry. Some families remove girls from school and marry them off at a young age to reduce the risks of teenage pregnancy and avoid the social stigma attached to relationships before marriage. Some families and school officials force married girls to drop out. See, Human Rights Watch, “Africa: Make Girls’ Access to Education a Reality”; Global Education Monitoring Report and United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, “Gender review – Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education”; Malala Fund, “Part 1 – The evidence of investing in girls’ education.”

[31] United Nations Population Fund, “State of the World’s Population 2017,” 2018, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/sowp/downloads/UNFPA_PUB_2017_EN_SWOP.pdf, (accessed April 20, 2018), p. 50.

[32] The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by all African governments. United Nations Treaty Collection, “11. Convention on the Rights of the Child,” https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-11&ch... (accessed April 23, 2018); Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 28

[33] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “General Comment No. 13, The Right to Education (Art. 13), E/C.12/1999/10 (1999),” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Edu(1999).aspx (accessed August 10, 2017), paras. 11 - 12.

[34] At time of writing, member states that have not ratified the African Charter include Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Sao Tome e Principe, Somalia, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, South Sudan, and Tunisia. African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, “Reporting Status Under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC),” http://www.acerwc.org/ratification-data/(accessed April 28, 2018). African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), arts. 21(2), 11 (3) (e) and 11 (6).

[35] African Youth Charter (2006), entered into force August 8, 2009, art. 13 (1) and art. 13 (4) (b). African Union Youth Division, “Ratifications – African Youth Charter,” https://www.africa-youth.org/frameworks/african-youth-charter/ratificati... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[36] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child,” Joint General Comment on Ending Child Marriage, 2017, http://www.achpr.org/files/news/2018/01/d321/joint_gc_acerwc_achpr_endin..., (accessed April 23, 2018), para. 31.

[37] The Maputo Protocol has been ratified by 36 member states. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights “Ratification Table: Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa,” http://www.achpr.org/instruments/women-protocol/ratification/ (accessed April 23, 2018).

[38] Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003), entered into force November 25, 2005, http://www.achpr.org/files/instruments/women-protocol/achpr_instr_proto_... (accessed April 23, 2018), art. 14; Joint General Comment on Ending Child Marriage, 2017, para. 37.

[39] Although the autonomous island of Zanzibar has a “re-entry” policy, separate to mainland Tanzania, it is not included in this analysis.

[40] See Benin, “Loi no. 2015-08 portant code de l’enfant en République du Benin,” https://srhr.org/abortion-policies/documents/countries/06-Benin-Law-on-t... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 180 ; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “Loi no. 15/013 du 1er août 2015 portant modalités d’application des droits de la femme et de la parité,” http://leganet.cd/Legislation/Droit%20Public/DH/Loi.15.013.01.08.html (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 10; in Lesotho, “Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, Act No. 7 of 2011,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/lesotho... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 11(4); in Mauritania, “Ordonnance no. 2005-015 portant protection pénale de l’enfant,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/Maurita... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 35 (2); in Nigeria, “An Act to Provide and Protect the Right of the Nigerian Child and Other Related Matters, 2003,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/Nigeria... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 15 (5); in South Sudan, “The Child Act, 2008,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/South%2... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 26 (3).

[41] UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014,” 2014, http://www.ungei.org/resources/files/Developing_an_education_sector_resp... (accessed May 14, 2018), pp. 16 – 17; Florence Undiyaundeye, “The Effect of Teenage Pregnancy on the Girl-Child in Nigerian Society,” January 2015, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291974990_THE_EFFECT_OF_TEENAGE... (accessed April 20, 2018).

[42] For example, in Cape Verde, “Decreto-Lei no. 47/2017,” where adolescent mothers have the right to take 60 days off as “maternity leave,” and in Gabon, “Arrête n. 2089/PM/MFPEPF du 19 novembre 2004,” which establishes day care facilities so that adolescent mothers can return to school. Rwanda is included in this category because its “2008 Girls’ Education Policy,” makes it “obligatory and compulsory for girls and boys who drop out to re-enter including girls who drop out due to pregnancy,” while its 2014 “National School Health Policy” “urges to compel schools to keep records and follow-up on pregnant girls to return to school.” Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Education, “Girls’ Education Policy,” April 2008, https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/94008/110190/F-1833244927/RWA-94008.pdf (accessed May 28, 2018), and “National School Health Policy,” 2014, http://www.mineduc.gov.rw/fileadmin/user_upload/health_policy.pdf (accessed May 28, 2018).

[43] Countries include Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Gambia, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

[44] For example, in Zimbabwe. Tatenda Gumbo, “Zimbabwe Education Ministry Clarifies Policy on Pregnant Students,” (Voice of America) September 15, 2010, https://www.voazimbabwe.com/a/ministry-of-education-maintains-policy-for... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[45] Population Council, UNESCO and UKaid, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” 2015, https://www.popcouncil.org/uploads/pdfs/2015STEPUP_EducSectorResp.pdf (accessed April 26, 2018).

[46] UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014,” pp. 16 – 17.

[47] For example, in Cameroon, the government’s circular n° 10/A/562/MINEDUC of January 2018 mandates public and private schools to establish re-entry conditions based on age, past work and discipline. See, Les Aramandines, “Règlement intérieur – Les Fautes Majeures,” http://lesarmandins.org/index.php/fr/presentation/reglement-interieur (accessed May 14, 2018).

[48] Population Council, UNESCO and UKaid, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” p. 7.

[49] Ibid., pp. 9 – 10.

[50] République du Senegal, Ministére de l’Education Nationale, “Circulaire n°004379/ME/SG/DEMSG/DAJLD,” October 2007 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[51] For example, in Cape Verde and Senegal. República de Cabo Verde, “Boletim Oficial da República de Cabo Verde – Decreto-Lei no. 47/2017 de 26 de outubro,” B.O. No. 62, October 26, 2017, https://kiosk.incv.cv/1.1.62.2405/ (accessed May 28, 2018). Forthcoming Human Rights Watch report on Senegal.

[52] For example, in Zambia. Forum for African Women Educationalists, “Keeping Girls in School – FAWE Zambia’s Campaign for an Enabling Readmission Policy for Adolescent Mothers,” undated, http://www.fawe.org/Files/fawe_best_practices_-_school_re-entry_for_adol... (accessed May 7, 2018).

[53] Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed May 8, 2018), pp. 6 – 7. Despite its existence, schools continue to expel pregnant girls in breach of South Africa’s constitutional laws. Lisa Draga et al, “Basic Education Rights Handbook – Chapter 8 – Pregnancy,” http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapter-8.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018). At time of writing, the government was consulting stakeholders on a “DBE Draft National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools),” http://us-cdn.creamermedia.co.za/assets/articles/attachments/73372_41456... (accessed May 14, 2018).

[54] For example, in Gabon. Journal Officiel de la République Gabonaise, “Arrête no. 2089/PM/MFPEPF du 19 novembre 2004, Portant création et fonctionnement des Haltes-garderies,” https://www.documents.clientearth.org/wp-content/uploads/library/2004-11... (accessed April 20, 2018).

[55] For example, in Namibia. Republic of Namibia, Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, “Education Sector Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2010, https://www.moe.gov.na/files/downloads/99b_Learner%20Pregnancy%20policy%20final%202010-10-18.pdf(accessed May 8, 2018), pp. 17 – 18. UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014” p. 17.

[56] Health and Education Advice and Resource Team, “Education for pregnant girls and young mothers,” May 27, 2015, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/57a08965ed915d622c0001c9/... (accessed May 8, 2018); UNESCO, “Early and unintended pregnancy and the education sector – Evidence review and recommendations,” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002515/251509e.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018), p. 22.

[57] Population Council, UNESCO and UKaid, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” pp. 12 – 13; UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014,” pp. 16 – 17.

[58] Benin, Mali and Senegal, for example, adopted re-entry policies between 2005 and 2007 that are inclusive of pregnant girls and young mothers, reversing a clear school ban on pregnant girls.

[59] Ministério da Educaçao, “Notícias – Decreto-lei no. 47/2017 establece medidas de apoio social e escolar que garantam accesso e permanência das mães no sistema de ensino,” October 31, 2017, https://radioeducativa.cv/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4522:ecreto-lei-n-47-2017-estabelece-medidas-de-apoio-social-e-escolar-que- garantam-o-acesso-e-permanencia-das-maes-no-sistema-de-ensino&catid=8:noticias&Itemid=108 (accessed April 25, 2018).

[60] Anthony Amoah, “When GES Plans to Keep Pregnant Girls in School,” Modern Ghana, June 11, 2017, https://www.modernghana.com/news/781441/when-ges-plans-to-keep-pregnant-... (accessed April 20, 2018); Jeff Andrew Lule, “Gov’t prioritises education for child mothers,” New Vision, March 29, 2018, https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1474448/gov-prioritises-educ... (accessed April 20, 2018); Carol Natukunda, “Pregnant school girls to get maternity leave,” New Vision, April 20, 2018, https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1476060/pregnant-school-girls-maternity-leave (accessed April 20, 2018).

[61] Hillary Margolis (Human Rights Watch), “Survivors of Rape in Conflict Should be in School,” December 5, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/05/survivors-rape-conflict-should-be-sc...; Human Rights Watch, ““They Said We Are Their Slaves,Sexual Violence by Armed Groups in the Central African Republic,” October 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/05/they-said-we-are-their-slaves/sexual-violence-armed-groups-central-african.

[62] République Démocratique du Congo, “Plan d’Action National de Mise en Oeuvre de la Politique Nationale Genre,” 2010, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/MONOGRAPH/95095/111833/F1922363659/CO... (accessed April 20, 2018); “Loi no. 15/013 du 1er aout 2015 portant modalités d’application des droits de la femme et de la parité,” http://leganet.cd/Legislation/Droit%20Public/DH/Loi.15.013.01.08.html (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 10; Republic of South Sudan, “The Child Act, 2008 - Act. No. 10 of 2008,” the Southern Sudan Gazette No. 1 of February 10, 2009, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/83470/92194/F822057232/SDN... (accessed May 9, 2018), art. 26 (3).

[63] Human Rights Watch reviewed various official documents, including: Ministère de l’Education Nationale et la Recherche Scientifique, “Plan National d’Action de l’Education pour Tous, 2003 – 2015,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/policy%20per%20country/CAR/car_educ... (accessed May 14, 2018); “Plan de Transition 2014 – 2017,” September 5, 2014, https://www.globalpartnership.org/fr/content/republique-centrafricaine-s... (accessed May 14, 2018); “Loi No. 06.032 du 27 Decembre 2006, Portant Protection de la Femme Contre la Violence en République Centrafricaine,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/CAR/car... (accessed May 14, 2018).

[64] See for example, South Sudan Education Cluster, “Response Strategy for 2018,” 2018, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.inf... (accessed April 28, 2018); United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Education - Considérations liées au genre dans la Réponse humanitaire en RCA,” 2016, https://www.unocha.org/sites/dms/CAR/Annexe%205c.%20FH%20RCA%202016%20SA... (accessed April 27, 2018); United Nations, “2018 – Plan de Réponse Humanitaire, Janvier – Décembre 2018 – République Centrafricaine,” December 2017, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.inf... (accessed April 27, 2018).

[65] BBC, “John Magufuli’s pregnant schoolgirl ban angers Tanzanian women,” June 23, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-40379113 (accessed April 24, 2018); José Naranjo, “Un test de embarazo para poder matricularte en el colegio,” El País, March 6, 2017, https://elpais.com/internacional/2017/03/05/actualidad/1488726266_750639... (accessed April 24, 2018); Amnesty International, “Sierra Leone: Continued pregnancy ban in schools and failure to protect rights is threatening teenage girls’ futures,” November 8, 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/sierra-leone-continued-pr... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[66] For example, Reuters, “Tanzanian leader reaffirms ban on pregnant girls attending state schools,” June 23, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-tanzania-education-idUKKBN19E19F (accessed April 23, 2018).

[67] Kizito Makoye, Nita Bhalla, “Tanzania slammed for ‘misguided’ arrest of pregnant schoolgirls,” Reuters, January 10, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-schoolgirls-arrests/tanzania... (accessed April 21, 2018).

[68] Human Rights Watch, “No Way Out” Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania,” October 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/29/no-way-out/child-marriage-and-huma...; Alexandra Kotowski (Human Rights Watch), “Dispatches: Girls Speak Out against Child Marriage,” June 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/23/dispatches-girls-speak-out-against-c...; Human Rights Watch, “Ending Child Marriage in Africa – Opening the Door for Girls’ Education, Health, and Freedom from Violence,” December 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/09/ending-child-marriage-africa.

[69] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, “Concluding observations on the sixth and seventh periodic reports of Togo,” CEDAW/C/TGO/CO/6-7, November 2012, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy... (accessed April 21, 2018), paras. 30, 31 (g); Human Rights Council, “Rapport du Groupe de travail sur l’Examen périodique universel – Togo,” A/HRC/34/4, December 30, 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/444/23/PDF/G1644423.pd... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[70] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “High Commissioner’s global update of human rights concerns,” March 7, 2018, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22772 (accessed May 21, 2018); African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, “ACERWC-ACHPR Joint Appeal to Tanzania,” August 8, 2017, http://www.acerwc.org/acerwc-achpr-joint-appeal-to-tanzania/ (accessed May 21, 2018).

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Leonard D. Akwilapo, deputy permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, November 10, 2016.

[72] Government of the Republic of Tanzania, “Education (Expulsion and Exclusion of Pupils from Schools) Regulations,” G.N. No. 295 0f 2002, art. 4(b) – (c) (copy on file with Human Rights Watch).

[73] Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School,” pp. 97 – 99.

[74] Countries include Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Niger, Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, Somalia, and Uganda. Although practice may vary in this group of countries, Human Rights Watch did not find evidence of explicit laws or policies that guarantee pregnant girls’ or adolescent mothers’ right to go back to school. Human Rights Watch contacted the Ministry of Education, and/or the country’s delegation to UNESCO, of Angola and Djibouti, to seek official responses on policies and practices applicable in these countries.

[75] Amnesty International, “Burkina Faso: Coerced and Denied: Forced Marriages and Barriers to Contraception in Burkina Faso,” April 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr60/3851/2016/en/ (accessed April 28, 2018); Moussa Diallo, “Groupe Scolaire Sainte Collette de Ouagadougou: Des éleves “exclues” pour cause de grossesse,” LeFaso, November 18, 2011, http://lefaso.net/spip.php?article44928 (accessed April 28, 2018); Le Quotidien Numérique, “Réponse du Ministre de l’Education nationale et de l’Alphabétisation a une question orale de l’Asemblée nationale sur la question des grossesses non désirées en milieu scolaire,” 2017, http://www.sciences-campus.info/2017/04/13/reponse-du-ministre-de-leduca... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[76] Onélio Santiago, “Ter Bebé Poder Ser Um Problema Para Quem Estuda,” Nova Gazeta, undated, http://novagazeta.co.ao/?p=8748 (accessed May 14, 2018). The Ministry of Education’s executive decree for school-based social action omits instructions on student pregnancy and school management responsibilities. República de Angola, Ministério da Educaçao, “Decreto executivo no. 131/06 de 3 de Novembro,” 2009, http://www.med.gov.ao/verlegislacao.aspx?id=361 (accessed June 6, 2018).  

[77] Countries include Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco/Western Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia.

[78] For example, in Morocco, non-marital sex is a crime in the Penal Code. In 2014, the Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the government to repeal this provision of the Penal Code due to its impact on adolescent mothers. Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Morocco,” CRC/C/MAR/CO/3-4, October 14, 2014, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy... (accessed May 8, 2018). In Sudan, an unmarried woman who admits to sexual relations or becomes pregnant can be tried for a "huduud" crime for which the penalty is 80 lashes. Liv Tonnessen and Samia al-Nagar, “Women and Girls Caught between Rape and Adultery in Sudan: Criminal Law Reform, 2005 – 2015,” https://www.cmi.no/publications/5661-women-and-girls-caught-between-rape... (accessed April 20, 2018).

[79] University of Bergen et al, “Sudan Report - Girls, Child Marriage, and Education in Red Sea State, Sudan: Perspectives on Girls’ Freedom to Choose,” September 2017, https://www.cmi.no/publications/file/6326-girls-child-marriage.pdf (accessed April 21, 2018); Ghalia Kadiri, “Etre mére célibataire au Maroc, un long calvaire,” Le Monde, March 16, 2018, http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2018/03/16/etre-mere-celibataire-a... (accessed April 20, 2018); Abdelkadir Remal, “Algérie: le drame des meres célibataires,” L’Expression, May 14, 2006, https://abdelkadirremal.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/algerie-le-drame-des-me... (accessed April 19, 2018); Roudi-Fahimi, F. and El Feki, S., “Facts of life: Youth sexuality and reproductive health in the Middle East and North Africa,” Population Reference Bureau, http://www.prb.org/pdf11/facts-of-life-youth-in-middle-east.pdf (accessed May 8, 2018).

[80] UNESCO, “Early and unintended pregnancy and the education sector – Evidence review and recommendations,” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002515/251509e.pdf.

[81] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, “General recommendation no. 36 (2017) on the rights of girls and women to education,” November 27 ,2017, CEDAW/C/GC/36, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy..., (accessed January 26, 2018), para. 68.

[82] UNESCO, United Nations Population Fund, et al, “International technical guidance on sexuality education - An evidence-informed approach,” 2018, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002607/260770e.pdf (accessed April 6, 2018), pp. 34, 121.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“Evelina,” 17, with her 3-year-old daughter “Hope,” in Migori county, western Kenya. Evelina is in Form 2, the second year of lower secondary school. After her baby was born, a friend encouraged her to go back to school. Although Evelina cannot afford to pay school fees, the school’s head teacher allows her to stay in school.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

(Nairobi) - Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, ahead of the Day of the African Child on June 16, 2018.

The 44-page report, “Leave No Girl Behind in Africa: Discrimination in Education Against Pregnant Students and Adolescent Mothers,” draws on extensive Human Rights Watch research on the rights of girls in Africa. Human Rights Watch examined national laws, policies, and practices that block or support pregnant girls’ and adolescent mothers’ right to primary and secondary education in all African Union (AU) member countries. Africa has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world. African governments should urgently adopt laws and policies to ensure that schools allow and support pregnant girls to stay in school and to return to school after having a child.

“In many African countries, pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are forced out of school and denied their right to education,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While some progress has been made, the African Union needs to work closely with all its member countries to ensure that no girl is denied her right to an education because she becomes pregnant.”

Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa.

In recent years, many African governments have made strong commitments to ensure that pregnant girls and mothers can attend school. However, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania still ban pregnant girls or adolescent mothers from government schools.

On June 22, 2017, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli stated, “As long as I’m president, no pregnant students will be allowed to return to school.” Tanzanian police and officials have also arrested pregnant girls and harassed their families to force them to reveal who impregnated them. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called Tanzania’s policy “shocking,” while the African Commission special rapporteur on the rights of women in Africa and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child have expressed concern, and said the Tanzanian government should fulfill its human rights obligations.

In May 2018, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice accepted a case brought against the government of Sierra Leone for its refusal to allow pregnant girls to attend public schools.

Girls who become pregnant in many African countries are barred from education. Many countries also do not have policies for re-entry after giving birth. Some countries with high rates of adolescent pregnancy, such as Angola and Burkina Faso, lack policies to manage adolescent pregnancy in schools.

In some countries, school officials resort to harmful means to identify pregnant girls, including forced pregnancy tests, and stigmatize and publicly shame or expel them. Such tests without consent infringe on their right to privacy and dignity. Human Rights Watch has found that some girls so fear such humiliation that they will preemptively drop out of school when they find out they are pregnant. Others procure unsafe abortions, putting their health and lives at risk.

Countries in northern Africa generally lack policies related to the treatment of pregnant girls in schools. Some impose heavy penalties and punishments on girls and women who are reported to have had sexual relationships outside of wedlock. Girls and young women with children, who are often perceived as bringing dishonor to their communities, are ridiculed, isolated, or even imprisoned, and are not expected to stay in school.

Progress is evident in 26 African countries that have laws or policies that protect adolescent girls’ education during pregnancy and motherhood, Human Rights Watch said. Four – including Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire – guarantee girls the right to continue school during pregnancy and after giving birth. Another 22 – including Kenya and Malawi – have conditional “re-entry” policies. Benin, Cape Verde, and Senegal have revoked punitive policies, and adopted policies that support girls’ return to school. However, laws and policies that guarantee “re-entry” are often poorly carried out and not well-monitored to ensure schools comply with them.

Even in countries with good policies, girls face barriers to returning to school. Some schools have burdensome conditions for re-entry, discouraging girls from returning. To overcome these barriers, some countries – such as Gabon and Zambia – have adopted measures to support young mothers returning to school, including ensuring that primary and secondary education are free, accommodating time for breast feeding, allowing young mothers to choose morning or evening school shifts, and establishing nurseries and day care centers close to schools.

In 2018, the AU called on member countries to “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development.” The AU should ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are included in the agenda to leave no child behind, Human Rights Watch said.

Governments should urgently adopt laws and policies that encourage girls to stay in school, to return to school after having a child, and to succeed academically. All should ensure that they do not impose stringent conditions on adolescent mothers who wish to continue with education.

All countries should adopt comprehensive approaches to support young mothers to continue with education, while tackling the root causes of early and unplanned teenage pregnancies, Human Rights Watch said. They should provide adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive health services, include comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community, and ensure access to a range of contraceptive methods, and safe and legal abortion.

“Punishing pregnant girls by throwing them out of school will not end teen pregnancies,” said Martínez. “Many African countries will fail in their promise to leave no child behind if they exclude girls who are pregnant or married, but the whole continent will benefit when pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are allowed back in schools.”

Selected quotes

“I didn’t want to have a baby … I’ve told all my friends that they do not try to have a baby… it causes many problems… But if you do have a baby, then you should go back to school after the birth. There’s no need to feel ashamed. Mistakes are human.” – Fatoumata, 17, from southern Senegal, who became pregnant when she was 16.

“At the school there was a nurse who would come from the hospital to check [test] for pregnancy. They checked me and found out I was pregnant. They touch your stomach. They did it to all the girls every month. Then they wrote a letter to my parents to tell them I was pregnant and they had to go to the school. There they gave them a letter that I was expelled from school. I was three months pregnant.” – Imani, 22, from Mwanza, Tanzania, who became pregnant when she was 16.

“I became pregnant when in class eight in 2014. I needed money to register for my final [primary school leaving] exam. My father had married another wife and left us. My mum didn’t have any money. I met a man who was working as a part-time teacher and told him my problems. He said he will give me the money. I started a sexual relationship with him, and that is how I got pregnant. My community mocked me. Other students rejected me. They would mock me and laugh at me. I felt ashamed that I was a mother in the midst of girls. I almost left school, but the principal encouraged me and I took heart. My mother struggles to educate me, but I am now in form three.” Angela, 20, from Migori County in western Kenya, who became pregnant when she was 16.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

“Evelina” (not her real name), 17, looks immaculate in her pressed white-and-blue school uniform and her neatly divided cornrows, as she futilely tries to escape the sweltering heat of western Kenya beneath a shady tree. Her black leather shoes are clearly worn, but her shiny shoelaces, coated with layers of shoe polish, gleam against her white socks in the hot afternoon sun. She twists her ankle to confirm that the soles are still intact and flicks an invisible speck of dust off her skirt.

She takes this opportunity to be a student very seriously because after giving birth to her daughter, ”Hope,” she never imagined she could return to school.

In 2014, Evelina was preparing for her final examination in primary school. Having lost her mother some years back, she lived in a one-room house with her grandmother and four sisters. She was determined to excel in school so she could get a good job as a nurse or teacher and care for her family.

She had a boyfriend and sometimes had sex with him. She was not sure  how to avoid getting pregnant, and when she missed her period for a few months, she suspected that she could be expecting. A local clinic confirmed this. “I was sad, ashamed,” she says softly. “I knew our circumstances back home, so I did not want to burden anyone with more problems.” 

After her baby was born in 2015, Evelina, at the young age of 13, had to drop out of school.

In many African countries, pregnant students and adolescent mothers often drop out of school. Some are banned by school officials, other girls stay home to care for their babies, and many drop out when they are forced to marry. In Kenya, where Evelina lives, the government has put in place a school re-entry policy stating that schools should allow young mothers to attend and should ensure they and their parents get guidance and counselling. Head teachers can work out innovative ways  to support these girls, for example by giving time off to breast feed and allowing extra classes missed for a student tending to her child.

Human Rights Watch found that in some African countries, like Tanzania, pregnant girls are often stigmatized, shamed, and forced to drop out of school. While ever-more countries have adopted policies to ensure that girls stay in school while pregnant or to help them return to school after their child’s birth,  many do not. To celebrate the Day of the African Child, we call for all African countries to adopt such policies and for all children to be included.

Evelina’s grandmother was disappointed by Evelina’s pregnancy, but continued caring for her and her sisters. When Evelina felt the first pangs of labor one evening, it was her grandmother who took her to the hospital. They lived in a village far from the nearest main town, Kehancha, and could only get there by a local motorcycle taxi called a boda boda. It was a long bumpy ride on the rocky winding paths. Thankfully, she delivered Hope, a healthy baby girl, without complications.

“Evelina,” 17, from Migori county, western Kenya, dropped out of the first year of lower secondary school when she got pregnant. She received no information or advice about policies that allowed her to continue going to school while she was pregnant. She wants to continue studying so she can find a job and care for her child.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

Still, she wondered if she would have any chance to go back to school. As there was no one to care for her child, she decided to stay home. This is a reality that governments often forget when they think about how to support adolescent mothers in going back to school.

Unfortunately, her grandmother could no longer afford to care for her, the newborn, and her sisters, so they all moved in with their father and stepmother. It didn’t go well.

“He drank a lot of alcohol and was always quarrelling,” Evelina says. But as fate would have it, Evelina met an old friend of hers who lived nearby. She asked Evelina why she was not in school, and Evelina explained her situation. Her friend had just completed secondary school at an all-girls school, close to where they lived, and she asked Evelina to try going there. The principal there would welcome her, her friend said, even as an adolescent mother. Unlike many schools, this one allowed all girls to finish their education, whether they were pregnant or had children.

Front cover of Zambia’s “Guidelines for the Re-Entry Policy,” adopted in 2007.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

But Evelina had no way to raise the school fees of $120 a year, even though it was very little compared with other schools. Also, her father was drinking more than ever and she still had no one to care for her child. There was no way, Evelina thought.

Then things went from bad to worse. Her father soon kicked out his wife. One night, he tried to burn the house down to make Evelina, her daughter and her sisters leave. The neighbors rescued them, and the girls stayed with their neighbors for some time.

Evelina turned to an already-married older sister, who helped them rent a house for $5 a month. Another sister braided hair, and Evelina did odd jobs like washing clothes or dishes in the neighborhood to earn money to live. They survived this way for a while.

Evelina kept in touch with her friend, who kept encouraging her to go back to school. “I had saved up about $30 and my friend gave me these very shoes, they are her old school shoes,” Evelina said, tears flowing freely as she recalled the moment. The shoes would have been the most expensive part of her uniform, and Evelina feared the ridicule heaped on children who went to school barefoot. “She said now I had no reason to stay home. This is why I decided to come to school.” She enrolled at the same girls’ school and began her secondary school education.

She decided not to reveal the extent of her financial difficulties to the school administration. As time passed, she was sent home because of unpaid school fees. She would stay home for a few days then return and make an excuse about delayed payment. She kept this up for a while. “All I wanted was to study, they already knew I had a child. I did not want anyone’s sympathy, I just wanted a chance. But the truth is that nobody was coming to pay my fees, and I had to tell them.”

The school principal let her stay in school and began searching for well-wishers to pay her debts. Although the school has not found someone to pay for her fees, Evelina still studies with no interruption from the school.

When she comes to school, she leaves her daughter, Hope, with a neighbor, whom she sometimes has to pay. Three of her sisters come to school with her too. The neighbor cares for the little girl all day, until Evelina returns at 4:30 p.m. “I do not know if my child eats anything during the day, but I cannot think about that,” she says. “It is too painful. I never ask, I am just glad that someone is caring for her as I study.” 

Evelina now has two more years of high school. She often thinks of how life will be for her daughter one day when she has a good job. For now, she is always happy to see and play with her daughter before doing her evening chores. When it is time to study, Hope clings to Evelina while she does her homework under a dim lamp in the night.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In many African countries, pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are forced out of school and denied their right to education. While some progress has been made, the African Union needs to work closely with all its member countries to ensure that no girl is denied her right to an education because she becomes pregnant.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Next week (June 18-22) the European Union hosts governments, the diamond industry, and nongovernmental groups in the diamond-trading city of Antwerp to take stock of the Kimberley Process, the certification process set up nearly two decades ago to end the trade in “blood diamonds.” But the Kimberley Process is not up to the task. The European Union-currently the chair of the Kimberley Process-should push for change to improve the protection of human rights starting with mining and throughout the entire supply chain.

An illegal diamond dealer from Zimbabwe displays diamonds for sale on September 19, 2010

© 2010 Reuters

Far away from Antwerp, villagers in Zimbabwe recently faced a violent crackdown by police and soldiers. Why? They were protesting because they believe that state-run companies have looted billions of dollars in revenue from local diamond mines with no benefit to their community. Residents say security force personnel beat women with batons, fired live ammunition into the air, and fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrators-sending three children to the hospital.

Zimbabwe’s diamond mines have a long history of human rights abuses. Armed forces killed more than 200 people when the military first seized control of the mines in 2008 and have coerced children and adults into forced labour. In April, local organizations reported that security guards had handcuffed local miners and unleashed attack dogs on them.

Yet, diamonds from Zimbabwe are exported legally into the international market under the Kimberley Process. Diamonds tainted by abuse-in Zimbabwe or elsewhere-can still reach the global diamond market easily. The Kimberley Process is narrowly focused on curbing abuses perpetrated by armed groups, ignoring those of state actors. It also lacks an independent monitoring system to check if the necessary customs controls are actually in place. Finally, the Kimberley Process only applies to rough diamonds, allowing stones that are fully or partially cut and polished to fall outside the scope of the initiative.

This needs to change. At the Kimberley Process “intersessional” meeting in Antwerp this week, delegates should seek to strengthen human rights protection in diamond supply chains, including by expanding the Kimberley Process definition of conflict diamonds.

Under international standards, companies need to have due diligence safeguards in place to identify and respond to human rights risks throughout their supply chain. Yet, many jewelry companies do not live up to these standards. Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the diamond sourcing practices of 13 leading jewelry and watch brands, whose combined annual revenue totals about US$30 billion. We found that many companies point to their compliance with the Kimberley Process as evidence that their diamonds are “responsibly sourced,” but take limited action to identify forced labor or other human rights risks in their diamond supply chains.

Companies and governments need to do much more to ensure human rights are protected. The Kimberley Process should adopt a wider definition of “conflict diamonds” to address abuses like those seen in Marange,  and establish an independent monitoring system and ensure more rigorous controls. Jewelry companies, diamond traders, and cutters and polishers need to take responsibility, too, and establish robust human rights safeguards throughout their supply chain, to ensure they are not linked to or contributing to human rights abuses in Marange or anywhere else.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am